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Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are words that are used together with the main verb in a sentence. They add more information to the main verb and to the sentence. Modal verbs can have different meanings including possibility, permission, obligation and ability.
The most common modal verbs in English are can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would.

Positive: subject + modal verb + infinitive
Negative: subject + modal verb + not + infinitive
Question: modal verb + subject + infinitive

Common uses:

1. Ability and inability

  • can swim.
  • cannot swim.
  • Can you swim?

2. Possibility and impossibility

  • It may rain tomorrow.
  • It might not rain tomorrow.
  • May I borrow your pen?

3. Permission

  • You can go to the party.
  • You cannot go to the party.
  • Can I use your phone?


4. Making requests

  • Can you help me with this?
  • Could you not interrupt me, please?
  • Could you pass me the salt?

5. Asking for or giving advice

  • You should see a doctor.
  • You shouldn’t eat too much junk food.
  • Should I apologise to her?

6. Obligation

  • must finish my homework.
  • must not forget to call my mum.
  • Must I attend the meeting?

Check your understanding of modal verbs

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