Modals and Appropriate Use of Modals with examples

Modals and Appropriate Use of Modals with examples

Modals and Appropriate Use of Modals with examples

What are Modals?

A Modal is an auxiliary verb (generally termed a helping verb) which is used with a main verb to indicate a particular attitude such as possibility, obligation, prediction, etc.

For example:- can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must, ought to, dare, need, used to.

Modals are also sometimes referred to as Modal verbs or Modal Auxiliaries.

Auxiliaries in English of two types:

Be is, am, are, was, were, being, been
Have has, have, had
Do do, does, did

These help to form Tenses, Interrogatives, and Negatives. Many a time they act as Main Verbs also.

For example:-

1.) As Main Verbs:

  • The book is on the table.
  • We are brothers.
  • I have a pen.
  • I do my duty.
  • She has a book.
  • I had two balls.

2.) As Helping Verbs:

  • She is playing a match.
  • I am not writing a letter.
  • I did not hit him.
  • An apple was eaten by Sita.
  • Are the boys being punished by the teacher?
  • Has this picture been seen by you?

Modal Auxiliaries or Modals:

  • Modal Auxiliaries (or Modals) cannot be used as main verbs or as independent Primary Auxiliaries.
  • Modals are never used alone. they are used to help a main (principal) verb.
  • They do not have the infinitive, Present Participle or Past Participle forms.
  • They cannot be used in all tenses.

Modals are mainly used to indicate one’s attitude towards what one is saying or when one is concerned about the effect of one’s speech on the other person in the communication channels.

  • Modals have special use in 3 types of complex sentences.
  • Modals are followed by the base form of a verb.

For example:- 

  1. I must leave now.
  2. It will be nice to say so.
  3. You ought to pay the taxes.
  • When a modal is followed by ‘be ‘ + Present Participle this indicates that one is talking about the Present or the Future.

For example:- 

  1. He may be watching.
  2. The play will be starting soon.
  • But when a modal is followed by have + Past Participle, this indicates that one is talking about the past.

For example:- 

  1. You must have noticed his behavior.
  2. She may have left already.
  3. I ought to have replied.
  • In passive sentences, the pattern is:

(modal)+ be/have been + 3rd form of the verb (past participle)

For example:- 

  1. His statement will be published soon.
  2. You can be arrested at any time now.
  3. Such changes may have been justified.
  • A modal is never followed by the auxiliary verb ‘do’ or any other modal.
  • Modals do not inflect. They do not have any ‘s’ form, ‘ing’ or ‘ed’ forms.

Appropriate Use of Modals with examples

Use of ‘Will’

‘Will’ is used:

1.) to refer to or express Simple Future in the sense of


a) It will rain tomorrow.

b) You will go to school.

Important Notes:

  • In Declarative sentences, with I/We as subjects, the use of shall and will is interchangeable.
  • Will/shall are not used in clauses beginning with ‘if’ ‘when’:
  • If I go to Mumbai. I’ll bring a camera for you.
  • If it rains heavily, we’ll float paper boats.
  • When he comes, we shall begin the work.

Also read, Determiners, kinds of determiners, use of determiners

2.) to express willingness/ intention/wish:

  • I will lend you some money.
  • Who will go home?

3.) To express a request/invitation or order in yes/no question will ‘you’ as a subject:

  • Will you accompany me home?
  • Will, you shut up?
  • Will you like to have a cup of tea?

4.) To express general facts:

  • The oil will float on water.
  • Pigs will eat anything.

5.) To express characteristics habit:

  • She’ll sit there for hours doing nothing.
  • He will tell you anything.

6.) To express threat or promise or a single impersonal command:

  • I will teach him a lesson.
  • I will try to improve next time.
  • You will not attend my class.

Use of ‘Shall’

‘Shall’ is used:

1.) To express a simple future or a prediction in the same way as ‘will’.

2.) To express suggestion (in yes/no) question with we as subject :

  • Shall we start the game?
  • Shall we play cards?

3.) Volition/ will of the listener:

(In yes/no question with ‘I’ as subject)

  • Shall I come tomorrow?
  • Shall I make some tea for you?

4.) To express willingness, intention or insistence on the part of the speaker:

  • He shall go.
  • He will go.
  • He shall be rewarded if he remains patient.

5.) In Declarative sentences:

  • Jack will do it.
  • Jack shall do it.
  • You will not betray my trust.
  • He shall not betray my trust.

Use of ‘Would’

‘Would’ is used:

1.) To express the future in the past (as in Reported Speech)

  • She told me that he would go.
  • He said that you would tell a lie.

2.) To express willingness, intention or determination or probability:

  • I would do that for you.
  • He would be at home now.
  • I would go out for a long walk.
  • I would give up smoking.

(Note: ‘Would’ here indicates more tentativeness than ‘will’)

3.) To express a habitual activity:

  • She would sit here for hours, saying prayers.
  • He would take a long walk after meals every day.

4.) To express a wish:

  • I wish he would stand first.
  • I wish there would be no rumor.
  • Would that I were rich!

5.) To express a desire/make a request:

  • I would like to have a glass of water,
  • Would you say something on the subject?

6.) To express an unreal condition:

  • Had you worked hard, you would have passed.
  • If I had reached there in time, I would have caught the train.

7.) To express a preference:

  • I would rather die than beg.
  • I would like to stay with her today.

Use of ‘Should’

‘Should’ is used:

1.) To express duty/necessity/obligation:

  • You should serve your country.
  • We should help the poor.
  • You should take exercise daily.

2.) To express tentative use (meaning ‘in case’)

  • Should you come early, you can see me in my room.
  • Should he give up drinking, he can hope to win her over.

3.) To express purpose or suggestion or condition:

  • Walk fast lest you should miss the train.
  • You should not leave this place so late in the night.
  • I should be glad to meet him.

Use of ‘Can’

‘Can’ is used:

1.) To express ability:

  • He can lift this heavy load.
  • She can drive a car.

2.) To refer to a characteristic (only a sporadic pattern of behavior, usually in a derogatory sense.)

  • She can be cunning at times.
  • Raghu can tell awful lies.

3.) To make a request:

  • Can I use your pen, please?
  • Can you pass on the salt, sir?

4.) To express permission:

  • You can go home now.
  • He can make his own choice.

5.) To express possibility:

  • She can be hiding.
  • He can come today.

6.) With verbs of sensation (empty use):

  • I can see the moon.
  • I can hear music.

Use of ‘Could’

‘Could’ is used:

1.) as a Past Tense of can:

  • I told him that he could take the test.
  • She said that she could do that.

2.) To express ability (past time)

  • He could lift that heavy load. (He had the capability to)

3.) To express a characteristic (past time):

  • She could be very unkind.
  • He could be cunning.

Prepositions rules learning, Prepositions practice exercises

4.) To make a request:

  • Could you give me a glass of water, please?

5.) To request for permission:

  • Could I take her out, mother?

Important note: Could is more polite than can.

6.) With verbs of sensation:

  • I could hear the music.
  • You could have helped him.
  • He could not help laughing.

Use of ‘Ought To’

”Ought to ” is used:

1.) To express duty/necessity/obligation in the same way as should:

  • I ought to go now.
  • You ought to take medicine regularly.
  • We ought to serve our country.

2.) The Past Tense of Ought to is expressed with ought to have + 3rd form of the verb:

  • He ought to have attended the meeting.
  • She ought to have helped you.

Use of ‘Must’

‘Must’ is used:

1.) To express compulsion, obligation, necessity, duty, advice:

  • You must attend the class.
  • We must respect our elders.
  • You must serve your country.
  • A subordinate must obey his boss.
  • You must wear a helmet.
  • You must not waste your time.

2.) To express a determination:

  • I must top the list this time.
  • I must get a seat this time.

3.) To express a logical necessity or expectation:

  • You must feel sorry for the mess you have made.
  • He must have played foul somewhere.
  • He must be mad to do it.

4.) To express a possibility:

  • She must have reached Mumbai by now.

Use of ‘May’

‘May’ is used:

1.) To express permission (or seek permission)

  • You may leave now.
  • May I come in, sir?

2.) To express benediction (or rarely malediction):

  • May you go up in life!
  • May he live long!
  • May he be burnt alive!

3.) To express possibility:

  • Sita may turn up any moment now.
  • She may be there now.

4.) To express a purpose:

  • He is building his body so that he may join the army.
  • He is working so that he may pass with good marks.

Use of ‘Might’

‘Might’ is used:

1.) To express the Past Tense of ‘May’:

  • He thought he might play a useful role.
  • He asked her if he might take the test.
  • He told me that he might join the party.

2.) To express permission (or seek permission):

  • Might I come in sir?

3.) to express a remote possibility (Present time):

  • He might be there now.
  • It might rain today.
  • He might win a lottery.

Use of ‘Used To’

‘Used to’ is used:

1.) To express a habit in the past:

Important note: It does not have the Present tense form.

  • He used to go out for a walk every morning.
  • As a child, she used to love dolls.
  • I am not used to such treatment.
  • I am used to hard work.

Use of ‘Dare’

1.) Dare is used to express ‘courage’ or ‘venture’:

  • He dare not oppose me.
  • How dare you insult me?
  • He dare not face me.

Use of ‘Need’

1.) Need is used to express necessity/ obligation:

(USed in Present Tense)

  • He need not go there again.
  • She need not worry about her test.
  • Needn’t you go there at all?
  • Need I stay there?
  • No, you needn’t.


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