what are modals

Dear student,

Verbs like can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must and ought are modals. They are used to denote possibility, certainty, probability etc.  For example:

Here are a few explanations with examples to explain the concept of Modals:


Can usually expresses ability, capacity or permission.

  • Can you get me a medicine?

  • He can work for hours at a stretch;

  • I can swim in a river.


May is rather formal. It is used to express possibility in affirmative sentences. Can is used in the corresponding interrogative and negative sentences.

  • It may rain today;

  • She may come for the party;

  • Can this be true?

  • It cannot be false!


Could and Might are used as past equivalents of can and may . In present times, couldand mightare used as less positive versions of canand may.

  • I could easily solve the puzzle;

  • The host might not turn up at all;

  • Could you pass me the salt?

  • You could have accepted the offer.

  • You might want to give an explanation.


Shall is used in the first person, although it is sometimes used in the second and third persons to express a command, a promise or a threat.

  • When shall we see you again?

  • It shall be a holiday tomorrow;

  • You shall be punished for this.

  • He shall never en ter my house ever again.


Will is used in all the persons to express pure future. Today, people have the tendency to use will more than shall .

  • I am not lying, you will see;

  • We will go for a picnic tomorrow.

Will is used to express volition, characteristic habit, assumption or probability.


They are used as past equivalents of shall and will .

Should is used in all persons to express duty or obligation.

  • We should obey traffic rules;

  • You should have kept your word.

Should is used to express a supposition that may not be true.

  • If it should rain, they will not come;

  • If he should see me here, he would be irritated.


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Modal auxiliary verbs are used to moderate the main verb, that is to enhance or restrict the verb to a certain context.

The most common modal auxiliaries in English are:



Notice the usage of modals in the following sentences:

I pay my taxes.


General declaration of fact. Paying taxes is something I normally do.

I can pay my taxes.


Expresses ability. I have the means (funds) to pay.

I might pay my taxes.


Expresses possibility, but not certainty. Maybe I will pay; maybe I won 't.

I will pay my taxes.


Expresses future intent. I resolve to do it at some later time.

I should pay my taxes.


Expresses mild obligation. It is required, and I expect to comply.

I could pay my taxes.


Expresses possibility. If I have nothing else to do with the money, I might pay taxes.

I would pay my taxes.


(In this case), expresses reservation. If I had the money (but I don 't). . .

I must pay my taxes.


Expresses strong obligation. I am required and have to comply.

Modals are followed by only the base form of the verb and are not used alone unless there is a clear connection to a main verb.

    He must to finish his homework.

    He must finish his homework.

    Jack could heard the bell.

    Jack could hear the bell.

    Penny will going to the movie.

    Penny will go to the movie.







There are many ways to make requests in English. The most common involves using the imperative and modals. See the examples below:

Using the Imperative

The imperative is the simple form of the verb. The 
subject of an imperative sentence is understood as "you" although it is usually not spoken.

    Open the door.

    Will you help me?

    Pick up your toys.

    Please help me.


    (You) open the door.

    Yes, I will (help you).

    (You) pick up your toys.

    (You) please help me.

The imperative is often used by persons of authority when speaking to subordinates, e.g. parent to child.

Using Modals

To show respect and politeness, most people use modal 
expressions when making requests. For example:

Will you...?

Would you...?

Would you please...?

Could you (please)...?

Could you possibly...?

Would you kindly...?

Would you mind (Ving )...?

Would you be so kind as to...?


Will you open the door for me?

Would you open the door for me?

Would you please open the door (for me)?

Could you (please)...? Could you (please) open the door?

Could you possibly open the door?

Would you kindly open the door?

Would you mind opening the door?

Would you be so kind as to open the door?

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