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Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

12th November 2020 CHALLA Comments Off

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

An Auxiliary Verb is also called a Helping Verb.  It is used with a main verb to help express the main verb’s tense, mood, or voice. 

There are three types of Auxiliary Verbs in English. 

1) Primary Auxiliary Verbs 2) Modal Auxiliary Verbs 3) Semi-Modal Auxiliary Verbs


Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Modal Auxiliary Verbs are also called Central Modal Auxiliary Verbs, Pure Modal Auxiliary Verbs, Coloured Auxiliaries, Modal Verbs, or simply ModalsModal is the adjective of mode which means mood or manner. These auxiliaries help to express the Subjective and Imperative Moods.


Modal Auxiliary Verbs are used with the main verbs to express ideas such as permission, obligation, prohibition, suggestion, possibility, intention, and ability etc., They provide additional and specific meaning to the main verb of the sentence.


  • They are not the main verbs and don’t form tenses.
  • They don’t form “s” in the third person singular.
  • They don’t take “do” in negative and interrogative sentences.
  • They are used with main verbs without “to”.
  • Two modal verbs can’t be used together in the same sentence.


Remember We don’t use We use
They don’t take ‘- s/es’ in the third person singular. She cans drive the car. She can drive the car.
They are used with main verbs without “to”. I can to drive the car. I can drive the car.
They are not the main verbs and don’t form tenses. (no -ed).

Another modal must be used to express past tense.

I caned drive the car yesterday. I could drive the car yesterday.
They don’t take “do” in negative and interrogative sentences. She do not can drive the car.

Do she can drive the car?

She can not drive the car.

Can she drive the car?

Two modal verbs can’t be used together in the same sentence. He must can drive the car yesterday. He can drive the car.


Modal Auxiliary Verbs list:
shall will can may
should would could might
must had better


  • Can you drive the car? (ability)
  • Rakesh said that he might visit her. (possibility)
  • You must attend this seminar. (obligation)
  • We should meet our principal immediately. (suggestion)
  • You may leave now. (permission)


Used to express Modal Verb Phrasal Modal Verb Examples
Ability can (present)


could (past)

be able to (present or past) I can take 100 push-ups. (present)

I am/was able to take 100 push-ups.

I could take 100 push-ups when I was young. (past)

Necessity must




have to

have got to

She must go to school tomorrow!

She has to go to school tomorrow!

They have got to school tomorrow!

Polite request or Permission can





Can I read this poem? (informal)

May I read this poem?

Could I use your mobile?

Will you please give me your pen?

Would you please open the window? (very polite)

Advice or Suggestion could (weaker)

should (stronger)


ought to

had better (strongest)

She could have consulted the doctor.

She should / ought to consult the doctor.

She had better consult the doctor.

Obligation or Expectation ought to be supposed to We ought to love our country..

We are supposed to respect our elders.

Habitual actions in the past used to She used to quarrel with her brother when she was young.
Degree of Certainty







could (weakest)

be going to


ought to

I am going to attend the function. (99-100%)

I must attend the function. (95%)

I should attend the function. (90%)

I might attend the function. (<50%)

I may attend the function. (<50%)

I could attend the function. (<50%)


Detailed usage of Modal Auxiliary Verbs:


Shall is used to express:

(This Modal Verb is generally used with  the 1st persons ‘I’ and ‘We’)

To form future tense with 1st person:


  • I shall attend classes tomorrow.
  • We shall meet the Prime Minister next week.
  • I shall not be there by 9.00 AM
  • Shall we go to Hyderabad tomorrow?



  • Shall we go to a movie tonight?
  • Shall we play chess for a while?

Inevitability or Compulsion:


  • Man shall not give up the quest for immortality. 
  • We shall implement all the necessary rules here.



‘Should’ is used to express:

Suggestion or Recommendation: 


  • You should eat good food to lead a healthy life.
  • You should not smoke. It is not good for your health.
  • You should read books to develop your knowledge.

Obligation or Duty:


  • I should attend the interview today. 
  • We should respect our elders. 
  • We should protect our country.
  • I should pay the fee on time.

In the Conditional Sentence:


  • If I received a letter, I should attend the interview.
  • If I were you, I should consult the doctor.



‘Will’ is used to express:

(In modern English ‘will’ is used  for all persons)

To form future tense:


  • We will go to a movie tonight. 
  • They will not go to the movie tonight. 
  • I will be there at 8.00 Am.
  • Will she call me tomorrow?

Volunteering and Promising: 


  • I will do everything for you.
  • I will arrange all the money she requires.
  • They will not come with you to the function. 
  • I will remember her forever.

Prediction or Expectation:


  • Gold prices will drop soon.
  • Which party will win the elections?
  • He will surely get selected for the Civil Services.

A formal request:


  • Will you be quiet!
  • Will you please give me your pen?
  • Will you do me a favour?



‘Would’ is used to express:

Express Conditional Sentences: 


  • If you were in trouble, I would definitely help you. 
  • If he had money, he would give big donations.
  • If she had attended the interview, she would have got the job.

Express Habitual Actions:


  • When I was young, I would always read storybooks.
  • Before he joined the job, he would go to the library regularly.

Express a wish (would and would like)


  • I would like to know what I must do.
  • I would know what my duty is.

Express a choice or preference with would rather:


  • I would rather quit the job than do useless work.
  • I would rather leave the place than speak to him.
  • She would rather go on foot than travel on the bus.

The Past Tense  of ‘will’ In Reported Speech:

  • He said to his friend, “Will you inform my parents about this?”
  • He told his friend if he would inform his parents about that.


‘May’ is used to express:



  • May I attend the class?
  • You may attend classes now. 
  • You may not attend the classes until you pay the amount.


  • May I close the door?
  • Yes, you may. 
  • No, you may not. Note:


In modern grammar cannot is used place of may not.



  • The schools may reopen next month.
  • He may not take your help.
  • She may come or may not.

Request or offer help: 


  • May I use your phone? 
  • May I be of any help to you?

A Wish:


  • May God bless you!
  • May you recover soon!


Note: 1

We use maybe and may be to talk about the possibility.

Maybe as an adverb and it means perhaps. 



Maybe he will attend the party.


In ‘may be’ ‘may’ is a modal verb and ‘be’ is a main or helping verb. 



He may be there at the party.


Note: 2

Nowadays, to deny permission, we sometimes use cannot instead of may not. The reason might be that it is easier to say can’t rather than mayn’t in contracted form.



Mummy, May I watch TV?

No, you can’t.



‘Might’ is used to express:

More doubtful possibility than may:


  • My friend might get a job in Delhi.
  • It might rain tomorrow.
  • She might attend today’s class.

In Conditional Sentences


  • If you give me the job, I might help your company grow. 
  • If she had come here, she might have got it.
  • If you doubt him, he might not help you.
  • Even if she wrote the exam, she might not pass.



  • You might have attended the interview.
  • You might participate in the programme.
  • She might not have tried to do that.



  • Might you accompany me?
  • Might I use your bike? 

The Past Tense  of ‘may’ In Reported Speech:


  • He said to me, “May I come with you?”
  • He told me if he might come with me.



‘Can’ is used to express:



  • He can solve this problem. 
  • He cannot (can’t)solve this problem. 
  • Can he solve this problem?



  • We can go on a picnic next week.
  • Our gym equipment can arrive today evening.
  • The company can declare a bonus this month.



  • They can attend the programme.
  • She cannot (can’t) use my mobile.
  • I can’t allow my child to go there.

Request or offer help: 


  • Can I borrow your book? 
  • Can’t I borrow your book? 
  • Can I support the team members?
  • Can I help you solve this?



‘Could’ is used to express:

Ability in the past:


  • She could dance well when she was young.
  • I could run 10 km daily before my leg got fractured.
  • Till last year I could watch TV without glasses.

In Conditional sentences: 


  • If they played well, they could win the match.
  • She could have got a rank if she had prepared well.
  • I couldn’t have helped her even if she had asked me.



  • Mr. Snehith could be the next sports captain.
  • Ricky could pass all the examinations.
  • My friend could arrange dinner for all of us today evening.

Polite Request:


  • Could you inform me when they arrive? 
  • Couldn’t you inform me when they arrive? 

Past Tense of ‘can’ In Reported Speech:


  • He said to me, “Can you drive my car?”
  • He told me if I could drive his car.


The difference between can / could and be able to:


‘Can / could’ and ‘be able to’ are almost used in the same way but with a few differences that we should not ignore. Please notice them in the following table. 


Present Can Be able to 
Modal verb be + able + to  

(main verb + adverb + to)

To express present ability  

(both can be used)


(but more common among native speakers)

I can play the violin.

be able to

I am able to play the violin.

To express future decisions/arrangements

(both can be used)


I can attend the class tomorrow.

will be able to

I will be able to attend the class tomorrow.

To express future ability //We don’t use//

I can buy that car once I earn money.

will be able to

I will be able to buy that car once I earn money.

Past Could Be able to
Modal Verb be + able + to  

(main verb + adverb + to)

To express general ability in the past

(both can be used)


I could do 100 push-ups when I was young.

was/were able to

I was able to do 100 push-ups when I was young

To express specific past ability – with action verbs //We don’t use//

I was able to help my brother yesterday.

was/were able to 

I was able to help my brother yesterday.

To express specific past ability – with stative verbs

(both can be used)

I could taste the dish prepared by her. I was able to taste the dish prepared by her
To express specific past ability – negative

(both can be used)


I couldn’t meet the principal yesterday.

wasn’t/weren’t able to

I wasn’t able to meet the principal yesterday.



‘Must’ is used to express:



  • Paradise must be the best restaurant available.
  • Neha must be the head girl of our school this year.
  • Our principal must be the chief guest of the function.

Strong Recommendation: 


  • You must read the book ‘Wings of Fire’.
  • You must start immediately to catch the train.
  • You must not waste your time to get a good rank.

Necessity or Obligation or Duty: 

(It is much stronger than should)


  • Visitors must give their details at reception. 
  • You must attend the interview with all original certificates.
  • Everybody must wear a mask.
  • People must maintain social distance.
  • Must we write these examinations?

‘Must not’ Prohibition:


  • You must not use those words on the school campus.
  • You must not do any constructions in this land.
  • You must not enter this part of the forest. 
Note: 1

  • Obligation from the speaker: (must)

I must attend the class. (my own idea)

  • Obligation from somewhere else: (have to)

I have to attend the class. (teacher told me to attend the class)

Note: 2

‘Must not’ Vs.  ‘Do not have to’

  • ‘Must not’ indicates that it is prohibited from doing something.
  • ‘Do not have to’ indicates that it is not necessary to do something. 


You must not go there. (It is prohibited, you are not allowed.)

You don’t have to go there. (If you want to go, you can, but not necessary.)


Had better:

  • Had better’ is used as a modal auxiliary verb to give advice/recommendation or a warning in a particular situation to avoid any kind of negative outcome. 
  • ‘Had better’ should always be in the simple past but not ‘has better’ or ‘will have better’.
  • ‘Had better’  is used to refer to the present or the future.
  • Sometimes, ‘had better’ can be shortened to ’d better
  • ‘Had better’ is followed by the bare infinitive.


  • You had better start immediately, or else you may miss the train.
  • We had (we’d) better finish our work today. We are taking leave tomorrow.
  • You’d better attend all the classes.
  • I had better speak to her clearly
  • Lokesh had better quit the present job.
  • She had better leave before the manager comes here. 


‘Had better’ in negatives and interrogatives:

  • In negative we use ‘had better not’ (or ’d better not).
  • In interrogative we invert the subject and ‘had’.


Negative Sentences:


  • He’d better not visit the office for two more months. 
  • You had better not go close to that dog. 
  • They had better not leave without the right message.
  • I’d better not leave my belongings here. 

Interrogative Sentences:


  • Had we better inform the principal before we visit the school?
  • Had she better book the flight tickets well in advance?

Negative Interrogative Sentences:


  • Hadn’t we better pay the fee before the due date?
  • Hadn’t we better intimate the teachers about the DEO’s inspection?


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