Modal Verbs in English

modal verbs list english

A modal verb is a type of verb that indicates an opinion about something or someone.

Take a look at the following sentences.

(01) He sings at the party tonight. - A fact
(02) He might sing at the party tonight. - Talks about a possibility.

Sentence number 01 brings in a piece of information or a fact. It does not indicate the opinion of the speaker. In other words, it does not express anything about how the speaker feels about the comment he is making.

Sentence number 02 gives an idea that there is a possibility for him to sing at the party tonight. The sentence clearly expresses what he feels about it. This feeling is generated with the help of the modal verb “might”.

Modal verbs come under the category of Auxiliary verbs in English. Each and every modal verb expresses different opinions. This opinion or feeling is called “modality”.

Modal Verbs List

Other modals / Semi-modals List
  • Ought to
  • Used to
  • dare
  • Have to
  • Need/ need not

Modal verb - Verb form

Modal verb + Base form of another verb

If we take sentence 02 for example, the verb pattern is as follows.

Might sing

Might = Modal verb

Sing = Base form of the action verb “sing”

We can replace “might” with many other modal verbs and generate different meanings as follows.

  • might sing
  • will sing
  • can sing
  • must sing

Let’s have them in sentences and understand their meanings.


I might sing a song at the party tonight. – There is a possibility / I’m not sure.

I will sing a song at the party tonight. – I intend to sing. / I’m sure of it.

I can sing a song at the party tonight. – I have the capacity. I’m able to do it.

You must sing a song at the party tonight. – Here, Someone is telling you that it is absolutely necessary.

Modal verbs express the speaker’s attitude to what he or she is saying. Hence, Modal verbs always have a close reference to the context of your sentence. Therefore, the following 7 important characteristics of Modal Verbs should be analyzed for a better understanding.

01. Modal verbs express modality (opinion) / Speaker’s attitude.

modal verbs list examples with meaning english

Let’s take a look at the following sample sentences.

I will see him tomorrow. Intention
Would you like a cup of tea? Offer / Politeness
I shall see him tomorrow. Possibility
Shall we take a taxi? Suggestion / Proposal
You should work hard. Obligation / Responsibility
I can play the guitar well. Ability
Can you do this for me? Request
Can I come in ? Asking for permission
May I go out? Asking for permission
You may leave now. Giving permission / Order
He might come back. Weak Possibility
I don’t care what they might say. Weak Possibility
We must help each other. necessity
You must not go to bed late. advice
I could have told you the truth. Regret
modal verbs modality english

02. One modal verb can have different meanings.

“Will you be there tomorrow?” he asked. – a request
“I will be there tomorrow.” he said. - Showing intention
“Will you stay out of this?” he shouted. - An order / command.

03. Same meaning also can be derived through many modals.

Shall I bring you a cup of tea? - Offer
Can I bring you a cup of tea? - Offer

04. Choosing an appropriate modal verb depends on the context / situation.

Situation and the opinion Sentence with suitable modal verb
I plan to visit her house tomorrow. I will see you tomorrow.
We usually meet at the bus-stop on our way to school.
Perhaps, we might meet tomorrow as well.
I shall see you tomorrow.
I like to meet you. It is a mere desire. I would like to see you tomorrow.

05. A Modal verb has a tense.

Many modals have their Past Tense forms.

Base form Past Tense form
will Would
can could
may might
shall should
She thinks that she will be happy. - Future Idea
She thought that she would be happy. - Past Idea

However, the past tense verb forms of these modals do not necessarily generate the past tense idea every time they are used in sentences. Let’s understand this with an example.

Would you like to stay here tonight?

In this sentence, the modal verb “would” has not been used in order to give a past tense idea. “Would” here suggests a present idea and bears a feeling of an invitation with politeness.

06. Usually, there is only one modal in one verb phrase.

eg. - The verb phrase is underlined
The sun will rise soon.
You should come home early today.
I must work hard.

07. Modal verb always comes first in the verb phrase.

Eg: The verb phrase is underlined whereas the modal verb which comes first is highlighted.

The sun will rise soon.
You should come home early today.
I must work hard.

modal verbs requests english


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