Modal verbs

Modal verbs in English/Modal auxiliary verbs

Meaning of modals /Modal verb definition/Modal definition/ Modals meaning:

modal verbs

Modal verbs belong to the larger category of auxiliary verbs. These auxiliary verbs cannot be used on their own. They are used in conjunction with other (main) verbs.

What are modals? (What are modal verbs?)

Modal verbs are verbs such as may, can, must, etc. that are used with another verb (not a modal) to express permission, possibility, obligation, ability, advice, probability, criticism, suggestions, offers, etc.
Modals are also called modal verbs, modal auxiliaries, modal auxiliary verbs.
Here are some modal verbs: Can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must, ought to, need (to), dare, etc.

Modal verbs examples:

  • I can speak three languages.
  • You must respect the club’s rules.
  • You ought to respect the rules.
  • He is absent today. He may be sick.
  • I used to drink alcohol but i gave up last year.
  • Can I help you?
  • You shouldn’t eat much meat.


  1. Modal verbs are followed by infinitive without ‘to’ except ‘used to’ and ‘ought to’
  2. Modal verbs have one form. They don’t have -ed or -ing forms.
  3. Questions are not formed by the use of the auxiliaries do, does or did.
  4. To form negative sentences with modals just use not or -n’t after the modal verb.

 Can and cannot (can’t)

Cannot is one word. The short form is can’t.

1. Can is used to ask permission to do something:

  • Can I stay out with my friends, mom?
  • Can I go out, please?

2. Can and cannot are used to give or refuse permission:

  • You can / cannot borrow my new car.
  • You can’t wear jeans at work. (You aren’t allowed or permitted to wear jeans at work.)

3. Can expresses an offer:

  • Can I help you? (what can I do for you?) (offering help)

4. Can is used to make a request:

  • Can you help me?
  • Can you open that window, please? It’s hot in here.

5. Cannot or can’t express certainty:

  • That can’t be Tim. He’s at school now. (I’m sure he isn’t Tim.)

6. Can is used to make suggestions:

  • We can go together to the book fair.
  • We can eat out today if you like.

Could /Could not

modal verbs
Auxiliary verbs/ modal auxiliaries

Could meaning: Could has different meanings. (Could synonym)

1. Could = knew how to, was/were able to

  • I could swim when I was a child.
  • She could ride a horse when she was 12 years old.

2. Couldn’t = wasn’t/weren’t able to

  • I couldn’t attend yesterday’s meeting. I was sick.
  • She couldn t finish her work. She got tired.
  • I tried to carry that box, but I couldn’t.

3. Could is used to make a polite request.

  • Could you open the door, please?
  • Could you please pass me the salt? (= Could you pass me the salt, please?)

4. Could and couldn’t can be used in the second conditional.

  • If I were you, I could do this online course to improve my English.

5. Could is used to express a wish.

  • I wish I could come to your party. (= I want to attend your party, but I can’t)
  • I wish I could be there with you.


English tenses