Return to Verbs



Modals (also called modal verbs, modal auxiliary verbs, mmodalsodal auxiliaries) are special verbs which behave irregularly in English. They are different from normal verbs like “work, play, visit…” They give additional information about the function of the main verb that follows it. They have a great variety of communicative functions. They don’t use an ‘s’ for the third person singular. They make questions by inversion (‘she can go’ becomes ‘can she go?’). They are followed directly by the infinitive of another verb (without ‘to’).

Here are the more common uses of modal verbs.





They can control the students.We can’t see it.Can I stay here?

Can you help me?

Ability / PossibilityInability / ImpossibilityAsking for permission



Could I borrow some money?Could you say it again more slowly?We could try to do it ourselves.

I think Brazil could win the World Cup in 2014.

He quit his job so he could travel the world.

Asking for permission.RequestSuggestion

Future possibility

Ability in the past


May I have another cup of coffee, please?China may become a major economic power. Asking for permissionFuture possibility


Let’s not call now, they might be having dinner.We might get a discount. Present possibilityFuture possibility


We must say good-bye now.They mustn’t disrupt the work more than necessary. Necessity / ObligationProhibition

Ought to

We ought to employ a professional writer. Saying what’s right or correct


Shall I help you with that?Shall we say half past two then?Shall I do that or will you? OfferSuggestionAsking what to do


We should sort out this problem at once.I think we should check everything again.Profits should increase next year. Saying what’s right or correctRecommending actionUncertain prediction


I can’t see any taxis so I’ll walk.I’ll do that for you if you like.I’ll get back to you first thing on Monday.

Profits will increase next year.

Instant decisionsOfferPromise

Certain prediction


Would you mind if I brought a colleague with me?Would you pass the salt please?Would you mind waiting a moment?

“Would three o’clock suit you?” – “That’d be fine.”

Would you like to play golf this Friday?

“Would you prefer tea or coffee?” – “I’d like tea please.”

Asking for permissionRequestRequest

Making arrangements



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