Grammar

Use of Modal Verbs in English Grammar: Learning Modal Auxiliary and Their Functions

Modals/ modal verbs/ modal auxiliary verbs are a special type of verbs present in English grammar. These verbs are used irregularly in...

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Modals/ modal verbs/ modal auxiliary verbs are a special type of verbs present in English grammar. These verbs are used irregularly in English grammar. Uses of modal verbs in English grammar includes providing extra information about the action of the main verb.

There are a wide variety of modal auxiliary and their function. In this article, you will learn about the different uses of modal verbs in English grammar and as an added bonus, there are also modal verbs examples to help you understand the concept better. So, let’s waste no more time and begin the learning journey.

Modal Verbs Explanation

In modal verbs definitions, it is referred to as a helping verb. There are certain modal verbs rules that encircle their use. It can be very beneficial if one can learn the rules and use of modal verbs as this will help you make grammatically correct English sentences.

Let’s begin with the types of modal auxiliaries in English grammar.

Modal Auxiliaries in English Grammar

These auxiliaries express obligation, possibilities, permission or ability in a sentence by adding meaning to the main verb. As per modal verbs rules, the spelling or form do not change, unlike other verbs.

There are approximately ten types of these auxiliaries in English grammar which are used for conveying different expressions. Following are the modal verbs lists:

  1. Can
  2. Could
  3. May
  4. Might
  5. Must
  6. Shall
  7. Should
  8. Will
  9. Would
  10. Ought to

Now, let’s see what are the uses of these in sentences with examples.

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Can

Use of modals in English grammar Modal verbs sentences
For expressing or asking about the willingness Can you help me with the luggage?
The negative modal verb form is used for expressing impossibility or inability. This can’t be prepared in such a short time.
For expressing ability in the context of knowing how to perform a certain task. They can dance but are not sure about performing on stage.
For expressing a possibility if a function is possible theoretically. They can reach there on time if they leave in the next 20 minutes.
To seek permission for doing anything or for being allowed to perform certain tasks. Father, can I please go to the picnic?

Could

Uses of modal verbs in English grammar Examples in sentence
For suggesting something We could go there once and then decide the next step.
For making requests Could you please repeat the chapter?
For identifying present possibilities They could go for a movie or could spend some time in the cottage.
For showing ability that existed in the past. In my school days, I could beat anyone in running.
For identifying future possibilities which depend upon a present task. If he practised more, he could win the swimming competition.
These modal verbs can be used for obligation and permission in a polite form. Could I borrow your camera for my next shoot?

Modal Verbs May and Might

May

Use of modal verbs may Example
These can be referred to as modal verbs of possibility as these express possibilities of present and future. Prof. Ray may become the head of the department soon.
For expressing/ seeking permission in formal situations. May I come in?

Might

Use of modal verbs might Example
For expressing present and future possibilities. Prof. Ray might be in-charge from next year.
These can also be used in English grammar for seeking formal permissions. Might I be excused from the meeting today?
Can be referred to as modal verbs of possibility as these express past possibilities It’s possible that they might have read the book but missed the movie.

Modal Verbs of Certainty – Must

Use of modals in English grammar In sentences
For companding with an external obligation sense All employees must log-in at the scheduled time.
For making conjecture with some certainty It’s already so late, you must be sleepy!
To prohibit. They mustn’t go here and there when the meeting will take place.
For commanding in a respectful way They must finish their meal before going to the park.

Shall

Use of modals in English grammar Example in sentences
For forming polite question/ request/ permission in American English Shall I drop you home?
Offering help to someone Shall I help you in preparing lunch?
This modal verbs for advice can be used for suggesting Shall we confirm 2.30 then?
For asking Shall I go now or you have anything else to offer?
To promise. This is used in British English grammar. The product shall be delivered by Thursday.
Simple presentation of I and we in British English Shall we go then?
Used in legal or formal situations. The employees should be allowed to put their opinion.

Should

Use of positive and negative modal verbs Example
For conveying idea They should be there on time.
For suggesting You should try this ice cream! It’s absolutely delicious.
Negative modal verb The dress shouldn’t be wet.

Will

Use in English grammar Modal verbs sentences
Can be used as modal verbs of certainty for the future or the past Don’t bother calling” she’ll have left for her flight.
Promising or treating If you don’t study now, I will send you to the boarding school.
For reassuring or making a decision Don’t worry! He will come quickly.
For semi-formal request making Will you please hold the umbrella? It’s raining already.
Expressing interest or willingness We are organizing a picnic this Sunday, will you come?
For intention expressing I’ll play the guitar if you sing the song.
To express habitual behaviour This doesn’t surprise me at all that you don’t know the meaning! You will keep on gossiping in class.
For prediction making The weather will be rainy in the coming months.

Use of Would Modal Auxiliaries in English Grammar

Function of Would Example in sentences
Expressing other actions dependant situations If he had a car, he would have left for a trip to the mountain by now.
For commenting on some behavioural characteristics It’s better if we don’t call her. She will ruin our picnic with her arrogant behaviour.
Talking about the future in the past. I knew she would come, that’s why I prepared food for three.
Expressing the habitual behaviour in the past. Every Sunday, we would go to the nearby ice cream parlour.
Commenting on the hypothetical possibility If she trained, she would be able to win the competition.
For talking about the past refusal He wouldn’t come to the party, no matter how much we requested her.
For commenting on likely truth I hear footsteps. That would be your brother!
For showing habitual activity The dog would bark every time someone unknown would come close to the main door.
For requesting permission Would you mind if I go to the room and stay alone for sometime?
To know preferences Would you prefer a soft drink or something hot?
To request Would you please go to the kitchen once and check if the rice is cooked or not?

Ought to

Use in English grammar Modal verb in sentence
With a stronger sense of obligation or intensity for expressing situations like ‘should’ They ought to come to the part before anybody else! They are the hosts!

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Modal Verbs for Obligation and Permission

Can, could, may, these are used for seeking permission. Now let’s have a closer look at modal verbs of obligation.

Modal Verbs of Obligation

All modal verbs of obligations are listed below:

  • Must- this is for personal obligations.
  • Have to- this is for general obligations.
  • Should

Example of Modal Verbs of Obligation – Must

  • They must stop there for some refreshment.
  • She must answer at least one of those questions.
  • I must do some work for the project.

Example of Modal Verbs of Obligation – Have to

  • No matter wherever you are going, you have to wear a seatbelt while driving.
  • I have to go back home as soon as possible, I think I left my purse there.
  • We had to go to bed maximum by 11 pm when we were kids.
  • She has to drive back to the place.

Example of Modal Verbs of Obligation – Should

  • You should call her sometimes, she feels lonely.
  • You should not smoke so much.
  • I should go now.
  • She should be able to do that well.

Modal Verbs of Probability

All modal verbs of probability are listed below:

  • May/ may have
  • Might/ might have
  • Could/ could have

Example of May/ May Have Modal Verbs of Probability

  • My brother is in Bangalore. He may come next month.
  • The book is selling well. It may become the bestseller of this month.
  • She may have understood the chapter well.
  • John did not reply, he may have not checked his phone.

Example of Might/ Might Have Modal Verbs of Probability

  • Sam is not here. He might be outside.
  • John might go on a vacation this month.
  • Rocky has an exam tomorrow. He might be on the varsity now.
  • He is not at the library. He might have a meeting at the office.
  • They are not in the city. They might have gone to her hometown.
  • Reema did not do the assignment. She might not have liked the topic well.

Example of Could/ Could Have Modal Verbs of Probability

  • He avoided the old food, kept outside the refrigerator as it could be poisonous.
  • With such a sweet voice Leena could have won the contest if she had participated.
  • He is a very good singer. He could have won the 1st prize if he took part in the competition.
  • Suzane couldn’t have joined them. She was hospitalized then.
  • As the exam was out of the city, he couldn’t have sat for it.

Also Read : Proper Uses of Simple Present Tense in English: A Guide To Better Grammar

Modal Verbs of Possibility

Below are all modal verbs of possibility:

  • May
  • Might
  • Could
  • Must
  • Have to

Example of May/ Might Modal Verbs of Possibility

  • Where did my keys go? Maybe they are in the car.
  • We may go to the shopping mall tomorrow.
  • This may upset your stomach a little.
  • I might have kept the door open.
  • We might not go there.

Example of Could Modal Verbs of Possibility

  • My keys could be in my bedroom.
  • They could go to school.

Example of Must Modal Verbs of Possibility

  • It must be very cold outside, you better carry a jacket.
  • It’s so late already, you must have your lunch.
  • He ran for 3 hours, he must be tired and hungry.

Example of Have to Modal Verbs of Possibility

  • It has to be very nice otherwise someone else will earn the project.
  • I have to go there as a company representative.

English Grammar Modal Verbs Rules

Passive of Modal Verbs Rule

Modal + be + past participle.

Example:

  • Can be
  • Should be
  • Would be
  • Might be
  • Must be

Passive of Modal Verbs Rule

Modal + have been + past participle

Example:

  • Could have been
  • Should have been
  • Might have been

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article will give you a better understanding of English grammar. These are very important parts of English grammar and in order to master the foreign language. So, do let us know what you think about this article by commenting on the box.

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