MODALS Simplified

What have researchers said about Modal Verbs?
 “The use of modal verbs is one of the problematic areas of English Grammar.”
(Randolph Quirk et al., 220)
 “In respect to the later developments of meaning carried by [modal auxiliaries], the
situation is exceedingly complex and no rules yet formed seem adequate to mark out
precisely their area of use.” (Peter Howard Fries, 175)
 “What makes it so difficult to account for the use of…’modal auxiliaries’ or
‘modals’…is that their meaning has both a logical and a practical (or pragmatic)
element.” (Geoffrey N Leech, 66)
 The mood represented by modal verbs or auxiliaries expresses “certain attitudes of
mind of the speaker towards the contents of the sentence.” (Jespersen)
Modal verbs express “modality” defined as “the manner in which the
meaning of a clause is qualified so as to reflect the speaker’s
judgment of the likelihood of the proposition it expresses being true.”
(Randolph Quirk et al. 219)
 Modals are mainly used when we want to indicate our attitude to what we
are saying, or when we are considering how what we say will affect the
person we are communicating with.
 They are Auxiliary verbs that provide additional and specific meaning to the
main verb of the sentence.
 Modal verbs are sometimes referred to as Modal Auxiliary verbs because
they help other verbs.
 The ‘modal auxiliary verbs’ or ‘modal verbs’ are can, could, may, might, will,
would, shall, should, ought to, must, need and dare.
 We use modal verbs to talk about possibility, willingness, ability, obligation,
certainty and permission.
 It might rain .(possibility)
 You must be home by 11 o’clock. (obligation)
 Will you help me? (willingness)
 You haven’t eaten all day. You must be hungry. (certainty)
 May I borrow your car? (permission)
 Modals (except ought) are always followed by the base form of the verb.
 I might play tennis tomorrow.
 You ought to tell her.
 Modals never inflect or conjugate no –ing or –ed forms, no –s in the 3rd
person singular present.
 He can ski
He cans ski X or He can skis X
 Modals do not use do or did to form negatives.
 They can’t be serious
They don’t can be serious X
 The negative of can is written as one word.
 She cannot (can’t) come.
 Could is sometimes the past of can (ability).
 Louise can read.
 Louise could read when she was three.
 Modals do not use do or did to form questions.
Would you like to come with me?
Do you would like to come with me? X
 Talking about the past:
modal verb + have + past participle.
 Peter is late. He may have missed his bus.
(Perhaps he missed his bus.)
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The Meanings of Modal Verbs
 Intrinsic = imply some kind of human control over events, so they include
meanings which are often described as permission, willingness and
 Extrinsic = involve some kind of human judgment about what is or isn’t
likely to happen, so include meanings which are described often as
prediction or possibility.
 All modal verbs have both intrinsic and extrinsic uses.
You can have a break now. (Intrinsic use)
Paris can be very hot in summer. (Extrinsic use)
I will see you tomorrow. (Intrinsic and extrinsic use)
How do we use modals?
What do they express?
• They can have different meanings depending on the situations they are
• To understand it better we are going to divide them into 3 categories
1. Single Concept Modal: they have one meaning
2. Double Concept Modal: they have two meanings
3. Modals in past (Perfect Modals) : They are used to express a
situation in the past
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Single concept
Double Concept
Modals in Past
(Perfect Modals)
Would have
Could have
Might have
Should have
May have
Must have
Ought to
Had better
Single Concept Modal
Joe will travel to NY next week
Small probability
I might move to Canada some day
You should go to the doctor
Ought to
We ought to know about first aids
I had better study or I will fail the test
Double Concept Modal
May (1)
May I come in?
May (2)
Good probability
We may visit Mexico this summer
Must (1)
Everyone must pay taxes
Must (2)
She didn’t arrive. She must be sick
Would (1)
Past (used to)
When I was young, I would play soccer
Would (2)
Present unreal
I would buy the car but I can’t afford it
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Shall (1)
Educated expression
Excuse me, I shall go now.
Shall I clean it?
Shall (2)
The company shall pay on January 1st
Could (1)
Unreal Ability
I could go if I had time
Could (2)
Past Ability
She could play the piano, not anymore
Can (1)
Present Ability
We can speak English
Can (2)
Can I have a sweet?
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Perfect Modals (Modals in the Past)
They are modals that refer to actions that happened in the past
MODAL + HAVE + verb in past participle (V3)
It must have been a difficult decision
They should have invited her to their wedding
Deduction in the past
Possibility in the past
Peter has arrived late. He must have been in a
traffic jam
Joe may / might have taken the wrong train.
Impossibility (negative
deduction) in the past.
Mary is very sensitive. She can’t have passed a
good time when her child got sick.
A possible action in the
past that was not fulfilled
Unfulfilled wish in the past
Regret about something
we did wrong (didn't) in
the past.
You could have played better
I could have passed my exam but I didn’t study
I would have visited you, but I forgot your
You should / ought to have warned me earlier
He shouldn’t have told them
Says that we did
something although it was
not necessary to be done.
You needn’t have bought it.
You needn’t have come. Why have you done
Would have
Past unreal action
I would have bought the car, but I didn’t have money
Could have
Past unreal Ability
She could have taken the flight
May have
Past unreal Possibility
We may have passed the test, but it was in French
Might have
Past Unreal Small
You might have sold the house, if you really needed the
Should have
Past unreal
You should have listened to the doctor
Must have
Past unreal assumption
We must have been crazy!
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Modals-like verbs
There are few verbs which often serve as modals too.
These are modal-like verbs
They need to be conjugated
Like to
Want to
Need to
Have to
I like to watch TV
John wants to buy a car
We really needed to talk to you
Susan had to pay the rent
Have got to
Look forward to
Have to
Future plan
I’ve got to go now
I look forward to seeing you again
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Choose the best answer: a, b, c or d
1. My son ___ be home by now. Where can he be?
a. Have to b. Would
c. Should
d. Could
2. I think your thumb is broken. You ___ go to the emergency room.
a. Might
b. could
c. ought to d. can
3. If you are interested in losing weight, you ______ try this new diet.
a. Could
b. mustn’t c. don’t have to
d. had to
4. Johnnie’s fallen down the stairs! I ________ call an ambulance!
a. Will
b. might
c. may
d. ought to
5. You _______ come too early. We won’t leave until 9 o’clock.
a. Has to
b. must
c. needn’t d. can’t
6. Children ________ be accompanied by an adult at the zoo.
a. Ought to b. must
c. would
d. mustn’t
7. You _________ talk during tests. It’s forbidden!
a. don’t have to
b. mustn’t c. couldn’t d. ought to
8. I can feel the heat. We _________ be near the fire.
a. Can
b. would
c. must
d. have to
9. They ________ hear him because he was whispering.
a. Wouldn’t b. mustn’t c. shouldn’t d. couldn’t
10. You’ve never heard of Britney Spears! You ________ be serious!
a. Must
b. had to
c. can’t
d. shouldn’t
11. __________ you like to have dinner with me tonight?
a. could
b. may
c. should
d. would
12. You _________ let him hear about the party tomorrow. It’s a surprise!
a. mustn’t b. wouldn’t c. couldn’t d. can
13. __________ I speak to the Chief of Police, please?
a. Must
b. May
c. Would
d. Need
14. He has arrived late. He _______ missed the bus
a. Must have
b. Should have
c. Could have
d. must
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Fill in the blanks with don’t have to, mustn’t
1. You ________ smoke in a gas station.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
2. You ________ pass a test to ride a bicycle.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
3. You ________ open up the computer while it is plugged in.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
4. Shops ________ sell cigarettes to children.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
5. This bus is free! You ________ buy a ticket.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
6. You ____ live in Canada to study at the University of Victoria. You can take a
course by Internet.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
7. In the US, employers ________ discriminate against women or minorities. It's
against the law.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
8. You ________ buy the text book for this course -- you can borrow mine.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
9. Puerto Ricans________ get a visa to travel to the US.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
10. You ________ be late for class, or the teacher will be angry.
a) don't have to
b) mustn't
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Using the correct form of the modal verb in capitals, rewrite
the sentences so that the meaning is almost identical.
1. I'm sure he is in love with Mary.(MUST)
2. You are not allowed to walk on the grass.(MAY)
3. I don't believe it's ten o'clock (CAN).
4. You'd better call the police. (SHOULD)
5. Perhaps he works for the mafia.(MIGHT)
6. Why don't you bring me that book?(COULD)
7. Please stop talking. (COULD)
8. Please sit down.(WILL)
9. You cannot walk on the grass.(MUST)
10. Peter, you study very little. (SHOULD)
11. He wasn't able to lift the piano.(COULD)
12. It's forbidden to enter the building.(CAN)
13. It's just possible that the phone is out of order.(MIGHT)
14. He used to smoke his pipe in the evenings. (WOULD)
15. Let me help you.(CAN)
16. The Government is not creating enough work.(OUGHT)
17. I insist that you do as I say.(MUST)
18. We didn't call the doctor because it wasn't necessary.(NEED)
19. Do you know how to make an omelette?(CAN)
20. Why don't we go for a walk?(SHALL)
21. Perhaps it is going to rain.(COULD)
22. You're not allowed to look.(MUST)
23. It's possible that she's visiting her parents.(MAY)
24. You are not obliged to say anything.(NEED)
25. I'm sure that this is not Peter. He is taller. (CAN)
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Complete the sentences with one of the modal verbs listed
must, mustn’t, can, can’t, could, couldn’t needn’t, will, won’t
1. Dogs ___________________fly.
2. You ___________________wear a coat, it’s quite warm.
3. Students ___________________be quiet when they write the test!
4. I ___________________go to school tomorrow because I am ill.
5. ___________________you open the window, please?
6. You ___________________drive fast. It’s dangerous!
7. When he was fifteen he ___________________run fast but he can’t now.
8. She’s a famous ballerina. She ___________________dance very well.
9. She ___________________dance at the party because her leg was broken.
10.If you go to bed so late every day, of course you _________________feel tired.
11.Your father is sleeping. You ___________________be noisy.
12.Birds ___________________fly.
13.If you don’t study, you ___________________do very well in the test.
14.He is late; he ………………………………………………. run to school.
15.We ………. book a table in the restaurant. John has already booked one for us.
16.Lions ……………………. sing.
17.He …………………………… buy anything he wanted when he was rich.
18.You ………………………………………….smoke. It is forbidden in here.
19.We ………………………..leave now. We can stay for a while if you want.
20.I …………………………………………... send you a postcard from Spain.
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1. d
2. c
3. a
4. a
5. c
6. b
7. b
8. c
9. d
10. c
11. d
12. a
13. b
14. d
1. b
2. a
3. b
4. b
5. a
6. a
7. b
8. a
9. a
1. He must be in love with Mary.
2. You may not walk on the grass.
3. I can't believe it's ten o'clock.
4. You should call the police.
5. He might work for the mafia.
6. Could you bring me that book?
7. Could you please stop talking?
8. Will you please sit down?
9. You mustn't walk on the grass.
10.Peter, you should study harder
11.He couldn't lift the piano.
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12.You can't enter the building.
13.The phone might be out of order.
14.He would smoke his pipe in the evenings.
15.Can I help you?
16.The Government ought to create more work.
17.You must do as I say.
18.We didn't need to call the doctor.
19.Can you make an omelette?
20.Shall we go for a walk?
21.It could rain.
22.You mustn't look.
23.She may be visiting her parents. needn't say anything or You don't need to say anything.
25.He can't be Peter.
1. Dogs can’t fly.
2. You needn’t wear a coat, it’s quite warm.
3. Students must be quiet when they write the test!
4. I won’t go to school tomorrow because I am ill.
5. Will you open the window, please?
6. You mustn’t drive fast. It’s dangerous!
7. When he was fifteen he could run fast but he can’t now.
8. She’s a famous ballerina. She can dance very well.
9. She couldn’t dance at the party because her leg was broken.
10.If you go to bed so late every day, of course you will feel tired.
11.Your father is sleeping. You mustn’t be noisy.
12.Birds can fly.
13.If you don’t study, you won’t do very well in the test.
14.He is late; he must run to school.
15.We needn’t book a table in the restaurant. John has already booked one for
16.Lions can’t sing.
17.He could buy anything he wanted when he was rich.
18.You mustn’t smoke. It is forbidden in here.
19.We needn’t leave now. We can stay for a while if you want.
20.I will send you a postcard from Spain.
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1. “An Old English Grammar”: Randolph Quirk, Northern
Illinois University Press, 1994.
2. ”Meaning and the English Verb”: Geoffrey N. Leech,
Pearson ESL, 3rd. ed. 2004.
3. ”On Subject and Theme” :Peter Howard Fries, John
Benjamin Publishing, 1996.
4. “The Philosophy of Grammar”, Jespersen, The University of
Chicago Press, 1992.
5. ”Understanding and Using English Grammar”. Azar, Betty.
Pearson Education: New York, 2007.
6. My communicative grammar study guide.
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