Modal Auxiliary Verbs


Understanding modal auxiliary verbs is crucial for learning and mastering the English language. These adaptable verbs are essential for conveying attitudes, moods, and potential in sentences. The modal auxiliary verbs in English, their definitions, and their uses in various circumstances will all be covered in this article. This comprehensive guide will help you improve your language abilities and build confidence in utilizing these verbs successfully whether you are a native English speaker or a learner of the language.

What are Modal Auxiliary Verbs?

The group of verbs known as modal auxiliary verbs, or modals, adds additional meaning to sentences by working with the primary verbs. They convey variety of ideas, including potentiality, necessity, capacity, permission, and more. Unlike regular verbs, modals do not change their form, and they are always followed by a base verb (infinitive form) without “to.”

The Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Here are the modal auxiliary verbs in English:

  1. Can: Used to indicate ability or capability. Example: “She can play the piano.”

  2. Could: Used to express past ability or politeness. Example: “Could you please pass the salt?”

  3. May: Used to express possibility or permission. Example: “May I use your phone?”

  4. Might: Used to express a slight possibility or uncertainty. Example: “He might join us for dinner.”

  5. Shall: Used to make suggestions or offers in the first person. Example: “Shall we go for a walk?”

  6. Should: Used to give advice or express obligation. Example: “You should eat your vegetables.”

  7. Will: Used to express future actions or predictions. Example: “We will meet you in the market”

  8. Would: Used to express politeness, preferences, or past habits. Example: “Would you like some tea?”

  9. Must: Used to indicate necessity or strong obligation. Example: “You must submit the report today.”

  10. Ought to: Used to express a moral obligation or duty. Example: “You ought to apologize.”

  11. Need to: Used to indicate a requirement or necessity. Example: “We need to finish the assignment.”

  12. Have to: Used to express an external obligation. Example: “We have to attend office meeting.”

  13. Had to: Used to indicate a past obligation. Example: “She had to complete the project.”

  14. Dare to: Used to express courage or challenge. Example: “I dare to take the risk.”

  15. Used to: Used to talk about past habits or actions. Example: “She used to play cricket.”

Understanding Modal Usage

Modal auxiliary verbs can significantly impact the meaning of a sentence based on their usage. Let’s explore some common scenarios:

Expressing Ability

When talk about capacity someone to do something, we use “can” or “could.”

Example: “She can swim like a fish.”

Seeking Permission

When asked for permission from someone, “may” or “might” can be used.

Example: “May I borrow your pen?”

Giving Advice

To offer advice or make recommendations, employ “should” or “ought to.”

Example: “You should try the new restaurant.”

Talking About the Future

For future actions or predictions, use “will” or “would.”

Example: “The event will start at 7 PM.”

Expressing Necessity

To indicate necessity or obligation, utilize “must,” “have to,” or “had to.”

Example: “Students must complete the assignment.”

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When using modal auxiliary verbs, there are some common mistakes to watch out for:

  1. Avoid using “to” after modal verbs (except “ought to”).

  2. Do not use two modal verbs together in a sentence.

  3. Use the correct form of the modal verb based on the subject (e.g., “he can” instead of “he cans”).

Examples of Modal Auxiliary Verbs 

Modal Verb Example Sentence
Can I can swim.
Can Can you help me?
Can She can speak three languages.
Could I could run faster when I was younger.
Could Could you pass me the salt, please?
Could He could have come earlier, but he didn’t.
May May I use your phone?
May It may rain later.
May She may have left already.
Might I might go to the party if I finish my work on time.
Might She might have already left for the airport.
Might He might be sick, so he didn’t come to the meeting.
Shall Shall we go for a walk?
Shall I shall do my best to finish the project on time.
Shall Shall I help you with your luggage?
Should You should eat more vegetables for better health.
Should Should we book tickets in advance?
Should He should have apologized for his behavior.
Will I will meet you at the café at 6 PM.
Will Will you come to the party tomorrow?
Will The concert will start in an hour.
Would Would you like some coffee?
Would I would love to visit Paris someday.
Would He would always take a walk after dinner.
Must You must submit your application before the deadline.
Must He must be really tired after working all day.
Must We mustn’t forget to buy groceries.
Ought to You ought to apologize for your mistake.
Ought to They ought to start preparing for the exam.
Ought to We ought not to waste food.
Need to I need to finish this report by tomorrow.
Need to Do you need to see a doctor?
Need to They need to find a new place to live.
Have to I have to attend a meeting at 3 PM.
Have to He had to work late last night.
Have to We have to be at the airport by 8 AM.
Had to She had to finish her assignment before leaving.
Had to They had to cancel the event due to bad weather.
Had to He had to pay a fine for parking in the wrong spot.
Dare to I dare to take the risk and start my own business.
Dare to She dares to speak her mind, no matter the consequences.
Dare to Do you dare to try the new roller coaster?
Used to I used to play the guitar when I was younger.
Used to They used to live in the countryside.
Used to She used to come to the park every Sunday.


Modal auxiliary verbs play a fundamental role in English Grammar and English language communication. Understanding their meanings and usages will not only improve your grammar but also enhance your ability to convey attitudes, moods, and possibilities effectively. So, next time you express ability, necessity, or seek permission, remember to use the appropriate modal verb.