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Modal Verbs

What Is A Modal Verb?

We could go to the cinema.

I can speak English.

You must read this.

A modal verb is used to support another verb and express things such as possibility, ability, permission, request or obligation. In a similar way to other auxiliary verbs, we cannot use modal verbs by themselves, they must have an accompanying verb.

The main modal verbs in English are: –


We can use possibility modals to express possibility; something that isn’t certain.

I might go home if it rains.

Words such as “may” / “might” express less certainty. The word ‘will” shows that something is either certain or extremely likely.


We use ability modals to show we have the ability to do or not do something.

I can sing.

I can’t drive.

We can also use them to express what we had the ability to do in the past.

I could sing well when I was young but I can’t anymore.


We use permission modals when we need to ask permission for something.

May I be excused from the table?

We can also use them to give permission.

You may be excused.


You must finish your homework before you watch TV.

We use obligation modals to express what we have to do. “Must” is a lot more forceful than “should” (which sounds more like advice than a command).

You should watch the new movie, it’s great!


Could you pass me the salt?

In English we can use request modals to politely make requests. They appear politer as they are less direct (as you can see in the example below).

Would you be able to fix my computer?

Modal Verbs Quiz

Show what you have learned with the quiz below!

What is a modal verb?
Which is a modal verb?
Which is a modal verb?
Which is a modal verb?
I could go to the cinema tomorrow.
Can you help me?
Could I listen to your song?
Which sentence makes the most sense? (A teacher giving strict rules)
Which sentence makes the most sense? (Asking if a friend has the knowledge to fix a car)
Which sentence makes the most sense? (Requesting a pencil from a classmate)
Complete the form below to see results
Modal Verbs
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