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Modal Verbs and Modality

When learning English grammar, it is essential to understand that the modal verbs are crucial for expressing abilities, seeking permission, giving advice, making predictions, and indicating obligations and necessity. Understanding modal verbs and their usage enhances our ability to navigate the communication skills and grammar skills during the learning process. This blog post will provide explanations and example sentences of core modal verbs, such as “can, could, may, might, will, shall, would, should, must”. Additionally, we will also learn the semi-modal verbs like “dare, need, ought to, and used to” as well as other modal phrases that serve modal functions.

Modal Verbs

Modality indicates any certainty, possibility, willingness, obligation, request, permission, order, necessity and ability by using it with modal verbs and expressions. Modal verbs are used to express modal expressions. Here are the main verbs we use to express modal meanings. Basically, modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that they don’t change in either singular or plural form.

Core Modal Verbs: Can, Could, May, Might, Will, Shall, Would, Should, Must

The core modal verbs are “can, could, may, might, will, shall, would, should, must” also these modal verbs are commonly used in English.

Can

“Can” is used to express modality such as ability/inability in present, possibility/impossibility, asking for permission, request. The modal verb “can” indicates present tense.

Examples:

Kevin can swim in the pool.
Sally can’t swim in the pool.
Nelly can play the guitar.
Look at the weather, it can be rainy when we go to the cinema.
Can I open the window while you’re out with our dog?
Can you help me order these documents?
Phil can speak five languages fluently.
Susan can’t pet the cats due to having an allergy.
Even though my five year old brother can stay alone at home.
After the accident, he can’t remember who he is.

Could

The modal verb “could” is used to express modality such as ability/inability in the past, future possibility, suggestion, asking for permission, suggestion.

Examples:

Kevin could swim in the pool.
Nelly couldn’t dance when she was 8 years old.
We could go to the cinema to hang out with our friends.
She could be a famous athlete in the future.
The baseball match could be delayed due to the heavy rain.
Could we come outside for a walk?
Could I borrow your book?
When I was a child, I could swim in the sea.
My cousins and I could hang out with each other.
Could we adopt a dog for our son?

May

This modal verb ”may” is used to express asking for permission and possibility.

Examples:

May I have a cup of tea?
May I use your phone?
Sally may be at home, or perhaps she may be outside with her boyfriend.
Kevin is upset, he may break up with his girlfriend.
The dog may be sick because he vomited in his bed.
Russia may become a super power country in the world.
May I speak with you to ask some questions.
There may be snow outside at midnight.
It’s an urgent matter to discuss; I may see you tomorrow.
May we go on a long holiday to spend time together?

Might

The modal verb “might” is used to express present and future possibility, suggestion and request.

Examples:

Your purse might be in our office because it is not here.
Might you help me change my grandma’s diaper?
If you have any problems in your life, I might listen to you.
Angela might resign from her job, because she decided to return to her homeland.
It looks nice, but it might be beyond your budget.
He asked if she might love him.
Might I ask you a question?
Might she just interrupt you for a moment?
I might visit you tomorrow to celebrate your thesis success.
Rachel might pass her final exam because she seems happy.

NOTE: We use could, may, might to express degrees of possibility. In English, the modal verb of may indicates more likely situations that will happen.

Will

The modal verb “will” is used to express instant decisions, offering, promise, certain prediction, willingness.

Examples:

We will watch a comedy film on Saturday.
Will you dance with me for the graduation ball?
I will promise myself to be the best version of me.
I promise I will love you.
The wedding ceremony willbe delayed due to the pandemic circumstances.
Will we cancel going to the concert?
She decided that she will travel to the Canary Islands because she found a sponsorship for this week.
Look at the weather! It will snow soon.
My father will plan to go to Kenya for a holiday.
I will need your advice for this situation.

Shall

It is much less common than will. The modal verb “shall” is used to express incertain predictions, make offers and suggestions.

Examples:

Shall I call you?
Shall we play a taboo?
Shall you do that?
Shall you eat a pizza for dinner?
We shall call the police for our protection.
Claire shall be 35 years old tomorrow.
Shall you find a new worker for this job?
Shall I cook lunch for you?
When shall she come for us?
Where shall we hang out for tonight?

Would

The modal verb “would” is used to express asking for permission, request, invitation and preferences.

Examples:

Would you mind if I opened the window?
She promised she would buy me a present.
Would you take a picture of me?
If I had a chance, I would decide to go abroad.
If it snows, they would stay at home and watch a Christmas movie.
Would she like to go to the party with us?
My grandma would like to have pizza for dinner?
She would love to join you for dinner tonight.
He would often go to the theater alone every weekend.
If I were you, I would travel around the world.

Should

The modal verb “should” is used to express recommendations, advice, obligations and expectations.

Examples:

There are many museums you should visit in Amsterdam.
You should start studying for your final exam.
You shouldn’t park the car here.
She shouldn’t smoke in a non-smoking area, it’s against the rules.
He should apologize for his rude behavior at the party
When exercising, you should drink more water.
It’s raining heavily. You should take an umbrella when you go out with our dog.
The doctor suggested that I should take a break to relax.
The students should attend classes regularly to pass the term.
We think you should apologize for what you said.

Must

The modal verb “must” is used to express necessity and obligations, or a high degree of certainty. Here are some example sentences using “must”:

Examples:

I must study for my theater performance by tomorrow, because of my role.
She must pay her health insurance in case of her disorders.
We mustn’t forget to take my grandma pills from the pharmacy.
He must be on the train by 4 PM, because he can’t miss it.
He must be talkative on the speaking exam.
You mustn’t drive the car when you drink too much.
For a healthy and self-disciplined life, you must have schedule habits and include exercise in your routine.
Before boarding the plane, passengers must go through security controls.
Visitors mustn’t shoot the artifacts without permission.
You mustn’t park in front of the garage.

Must

The modal verb “must” is used to express necessity and obligations, or a high degree of certainty. Here are some example sentences using “must”:

Examples:

I must study for my theater performance by tomorrow, because of my role.
She must pay her health insurance in case of her disorders.
We mustn’t forget to take my grandma pills from the pharmacy.
He must be on the train by 4 PM, because he can’t miss it.
He must be talkative on the speaking exam.
You mustn’t drive the car when you drink too much.
For a healthy and self-disciplined life, you must have schedule habits and include exercise in your routine.
Before boarding the plane, passengers must go through security controls.
Visitors mustn’t shoot the artifacts without permission.
You mustn’t park in front of the garage.

Semi-modals: Dare, Need, Ought to, Used to

Semi modal verbs are a group of verbs that share some similarities with modal verbs, but these semi-modal verbs are followed by to infinitive and the negative formed with -do and an auxiliary verb in negative and question form. Semi-modals are “dare”,”need”, “ought to” and “used to”. Semi modal verbs are used to express necessity, obligations and giving advice.

Dare

“Dare” is a both main and semi-modals which means to challenge somebody to do something dangerous or difficult as a main verb. The semi modal “dare” is used in typically present tense and negative forms, followed by an infinitive with “to” in the sentence. It is to express positive and negative permissions.

Examples:

The child dared to promise himself towards his family’s decisions.
Nobody dared to speak to the manager.
You didn’t dare to stop your friend.
I dare to keep this spider in my room because I’m not afraid of it.
You dare to eat the poisonous fish.
You dare to dream big and pursue your dreams.
Did you dare to think of the challenge of bumping jumbles?
She never dared to explore the haunted house at night.
Dare you eat the wasabi sauce?
She doesn’t dare to express her true feelings.

Need

The semi-modal verb “need” is used to express necessity or obligation. It is followed by an infinitive with “to” and can be used in the positive and negative forms.

Examples:

I need to clean my room
She needs to attend the project meeting tomorrow.
He needs to prepare for the chairmanship.
The doctor needs to analyze the patient’s blood results.
They need to go to the park for a walk.
To maintain good dental hygiene, you need to brush your teeth twice a day.
Parents needto provide a trustworthy and supportive environment for their children.
Electronic devices need regular maintenance to function properly.
She said that everyone needs to attend the mandatory meeting.
The baby needs to be vaccinated regularly.

Ought to

The semi-modal verb “ought to” is used to express suggestions, recommendations and give advice.

Examples:

I ought to visit my grandma because she misses me.
She wants to buy a coat for her intimate friends, she ought to work.
You ought to exercise when you are on a diet.
He ought to forget his ex-toxic relationship before deciding on a new relationship.
Before making a decision, you ought to consider all the available options for yourself.
If you want to improve your language skills, you ought topractice regularly.
Students ought to study their notes regularly, preparing better for their exams.
Before going abroad, you ought to check the validity of your passport and visa requirements.
Children ought to learn the importance of kindness and empathy from their families.
Good friends ought to support each other during challenging times.

Used to

The semi-modal verb “used to” is used to express that an action happened habitually, or frequently during a period of past. It is followed by a verb and is generally used in positive sentences.

Examples:

My father used to smoke when I was a child.
My little brother used to learn Dutch.
My mother used to make surprise cakes.
I used to play with my dolls with my neighbor friends.
She used to live in Berlin when she was young.
Kevin used to play the piano before moving to the Netherlands.
Carla used to be vegetarian, but now she eats meat.
We used to go to the cinema together every Friday night.
He used to live in Ankara but now he lives with his fiancé in London.
We used to go on holiday vacations every summer when I was younger.

Other Verbs with Modal Meanings: Have (got) to, Be going to and Be able to

Besides, it’s beneficial for you to learn these modal functions that serve as a modal and modality.

Have (got) to

“Have to” is a semi-modal verb. They express modality such as necessities, obligations, certainty. It indicates that you must do something because it’s required.

Examples:

I have to attend a zoom meeting this afternoon.
We have (got) to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike for safety.
It’s has been a car accident in the street. I have to call the ambulance and police.
You have (got) to submit your project before finishing its deadline.
She has to take care of her younger siblings while her parents are at work.
He has to pay the bills before the due date.
She has to study for the upcoming exams and projects.
Drivers have to obey traffic rules.
We have to follow the rules to maintain a safe environment as a citizen.
I have to wake up early for work everyday.

Be going to

However “be going to” is not a modal verb itself, it is used to express future plans, intentions and predictions. The phrase of be going to is used to describe certain plans and decisions that will happen in the future.

Examples:

She is going to go to the doctor because of her eye control this week.
He is going to start his new job in two days.
She is going to buy a car for her children.
The weather forecast says it’s going to be sunny today.
I am going to start a new yoga routine next week.
They are going to visit Philadelphia during their summer vacation.
I am going to see a contemporary art exhibition with my friends next weekend.
We are going to adopt a cat from the shelter.
She is going to start a new pilates routine to stay healthy.
The company is going to start a new project next year.

Be able to

This phrase is used to express capability or the ability to do something. Despite having similarities with the modal verb “can”, it is used all tenses to show ability and capability rather than the modal verb “can”.

Examples:

I was able to cook green lentil soup five years ago.
I am able to play many guitar solos.
My sister is able to speak three languages fluently.
He will be able to attend the international film festival next week.
After five years of practice, he is able to jump from a parachute this weekend during his vacation.
I should be able to learn my priorities for myself.
If you prioritize yourself, you will be able to manage your time effectively.
Despite the initial difficulties, they were able to establish a successful business.
With proper training, anyone can be able to swim confidently.
If she practices regularly, she will be able to play the ukulele.

Frequently Asked Questions About Modal Verbs and Modality

What are modal verbs?

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs used to express modality, which express the speaker’s behavior toward the likelihood, necessity, permission, ability or obligation of an action or event.

How do modal verbs differ from regular verbs?

Modal verbs have unique forms. They don’t take “-s” in the third person singular, they are followed by the base form of the main verb, and they can’t be used as the main verb in the sentence.

What are the core modal verbs in English?

The core modal verbs in English are can, could, may, might, will, shall, would, should, and must.

What are some common uses of modal verbs?

Modal verbs are used to express ability, possibility, permission, requests, offers, suggestions, recommendations, and obligations.

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