What are modal verbs? They are not quite the same as regular verbs such as play, walk and swim. Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb, which go before the main verb, and help to show a function such as permission, probability, ability and obligation.

Modal verbs can be tricky at first – but they don’t need to be. Today we’re going to look at four different types, and some examples for each. We’ll also share some fun videos to help you practise!

 

Which verbs are modal verbs?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common examples of modal verbs:

1_4 different types of modal verbs

Other examples include: ought to, dare to, need not or had better which are slightly less common.

With modal verbs we must use the structure: modal verb + infinitive (without to)

 

Modals of deduction

Modal verbs of deduction, also known as modal verbs of certainty or probability, are used to show how sure we are of something.

  • Must shows us that we are very sure that something is true:
  • 2_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Might, may or could show us that we are not very sure that something is true:
  • 3_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Might not or may not are used in negative sentences:
  • 4_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Can’t shows us that we are very sure that something isn’t true:
  • 5_4 different types of modal verbs

 

Activity One

Learn more about modal verbs of deduction in this video from Learn English with Cambridge:

 

Modals of ability

Modal verbs of ability are used to show that someone or something has or doesn’t have a particular ability or skill.

  • Can shows us whether the subject is able to do something in the present or future:
  • 6_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Cannot / can’t show us that the subject is not able to do something in the present or future:
  • 7_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Could shows us that the subject was able to something in the past:
  • 8_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Could not / couldn’t show us that the subject was not able to do something in the past:
  • 9_4 different types of modal verbs

  • For all tenses to substitute can/can’t/could/couldn’t use be able to / not be able to:
  • 10_4 different types of modal verbs

 

Activity Two

Learn more about modal verbs of ability in this video from mmmEnglish:

 

Modals of permission, requests and offers

These modal verbs are used to ask if someone is allowed to do something, ask someone to do something or offer help and assistance.

  • Can is used to ask permission, and make requests and offers:
  • 11_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Could and may are more formal ways to ask for permission:
  • 12_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Could is a more formal way to make a request:
  • 13_4 different types of modal verbs

  • May or shall are more formal ways to offer help:
  • 14_4 different types of modal verbs

 

Activity Three

Learn more about modal verbs of permission, requests and offers in this video from Anglopod:

 

Modals of obligation, advice and prohibition

We use these modal verbs to say something is necessary or unnecessary, give advice or make suggestions.

  • Have to is used for external obligations e.g. rules and laws:
  • 15_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Must is used for personal obligations:
  • 16_4 different types of modal verbs

    *Note – Must can only be used for the present or future, all other tenses use have to.

  • Have to and must are also used for strong recommendations:
  • 17_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Don’t have to shows something is not necessary:
  • 18_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Must not / mustn’t, cannot / can’t or be not allowed to mean something is prohibited:
  • 19_4 different types of modal verbs

  • Should and should not / shouldn’t are used to give advice or a suggestion:
  • 20_4 different types of modal verbs

 

Activity Four

Still confused about the difference between must and have to? Learn more with this video from Amigos Ingleses:

 

Looking for more grammar lessons?

So there you have it! That’s our rundown of different uses of modal verbs. If you enjoyed this article, and you’re looking for more grammar lessons, then check out the following:

 

And, if you’d like a little extra help with your grammar. Why not join one of our General Intensive or Part-time English classes? Sign up now!

Glossary for Language Learners

 

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

not quite (adv): not completely.

auxiliary verb (n): a verb which changes the tense, voice or mood of another verb.

tricky (adj): difficult.

slightly (adv): a little; a bit.

assistance (n): action of helping someone.

advice (n): suggestions or recommendations.

confused (adj): unable to understand something.

rundown (n): a quick description of a situation or idea, that explains the main points.

Key

n = noun

adj = adjective

adv = adverb

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