What are Modal Verbs in English? Definition, Examples, List

Let’s explore Modal Verbs!

What are Modal Verbs in English? Definition, Examples, List

Modal verbs in the English language contain only a handful of verbs, but they have specific usage and help us express our speech appropriately.

In this post, we will be talking about modal verbs in the English language in a much detailed manner.

What are Modal Verbs in English? Definition

Modal Verbs Definition

If we go by the definition, then modal verbs can be deemed as helping verbs.

Modal Verbs List

They include verbs such as,

  • can,
  • may,
  • might,
  • must,
  • will,
  • would,
  • should.

When teamed up with other verbs, they can indicate ability, possibility, obligation, and other sentiments as well.

Now, there are a few rules when it comes to using modal verbs. By adhering to these rules, you can make your writing effective and grammatically correct.

But before that, we must get into the modal verb rules.

Modal Verbs Explanation

Let’s check an example.

English is not my mother tongue, but I can speak it fluently.

Here, ‘can’ is used to help the main verb ‘speak’ and express the ability to speak. Hence, ‘can’ is a modal verb.

Modal Verbs with Examples  

Let’s look at a few examples of modals.


It is used to express ability.

  • Example: I can speak French fluently.

It is also used to ask permission

  • Example: Can I borrow your pen?


It can express possibility and also used to ask permission

  • Example: I may come tomorrow for the picnic.
  • Example: May I come in?


It can express obligation or even a strong belief

  • Example: I must do the work while he is out.
  • Example: He must be a professional soccer player.


To give some advice

  • Example: You should always respect your elders.


It is used to request or offer something

  • Example: Would you like some soft drink?

One of the most interesting things about modal verbs is that they don’t change their forms, and they even don’t have any participle or infinitive forms either.

They are always dependent on other verbs to denote the various tenses.

Like, for instance:

  • I will have to meet him before it is too late.
  • I must come down to the school to see the matter myself.

Also, since modals are auxiliary verbs themselves, they don’t need a second auxiliary to form questions or form a negative sentence. Like for example:

  • May I be excused for a while?
  • He shouldn’t be there all by himself.

Check out modal verb worksheets for practice.

Modal Verbs Rules & Examples

Now, let’s look at the various uses of modals and their rules with the help of some examples.

Model Verb Rule#Can


To express willingness

  • Example: Can you please help me with some food?


Used in a negative sense can indicate the improbability of something.

  • Example: This can’t be possible!


To express the ability to do or performing something

  • Example: He can sing, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.


To seek permission for doing something particularly

  • Example: Can I please go to the fair with my friends?

Model Verb Rule#Could


To suggest something

  • Example: I could bring some homemade food for everyone.


To make a request for something

  • Example: Could you please watch my kitten for a day?


To oblige or ask something politely

  • Example: Could you please do me a favor?


To identify the present possibilities

  • Example: He could run for the election of class president.


To indicate future possibilities depending on the present task

  • Example: If he sticks to the plan, he could be successful in the end.

Model Verb Rule#May


Can express future possibility

  • Example: Mr. Roy may just win this match.


For expressing/ seeking permission in formal situations

  • Example: May I join the class now?

Model Verb Rule#Might


For expressing present and future possibilities

  • Example: He might just succeed this time.


To seek permission in a formal tone.

  • Example: Might I be allowed for the match today?


To indicate a possibility

  • Example: He might have missed the school bus today!

Model Verb Rule#Must


For commanding and impose obligations

  • Example: All students must report back to the classrooms by 10.30 A.M.


For making conjecture with some certainty

  • Example: It’s already quite late now; you must be hungry.


To prohibit something

  • Example: Kids must not go there when elders are talking.


To command respectfully

  • Example: You must eat your breakfast every day.

Model Verb Rule#Shall


To say polite question/ request/ permission in American English

  • Example: Shall we dance now?


Offering help to someone

  • Example: Shall I help you with your homework?


To suggest something

  • Example: Shall we call it a tie then?


For asking

  • Example: Shall I move on now because I have a lot of work to do?


To Promise

  • Example: Your item shall be delivered to your house next week.


In British English, they can represent I and We

  • Example: Shall we go to the supermarket today?


Used in legal or formal situations

  • Example: The convict shall remain in prison until the next trial.

Model Verb Rule#Should


To convey idea

  • Example: They should come here with the money.


For suggesting

  • Example: You should visit my Uncle’s store; they have the best collection you have ever seen.


Negative modal verb

  • Example: The matchbox shouldn’t be wet; otherwise, we will be in big trouble.

Model Verb Rule#Will


Is used as the certainty of the future or the past

  • Example: You shouldn’t call her now; she will be out by now.


Promising or treating

  • Example: If you fail to pass this time, I will surely send you to boarding school.


For reassuring or making a decision

  • Example: Don’t worry! He will be there indeed.


For semi-formal request making

  • Example: Will you please drop me home today? It’s very cold out there.


Expressing interest or willingness

  • Example: We are having a party this Friday, will you be there?


For intention expressing

  • Example: I’ll play along with you if you are ready.


To express a habit of behavior

  • Example: I am not surprised at all that you are back to the same drill. No matter what, you will disturb the class, isn’t it?


For making a prediction

  • Example: It will be a bright sunny day tomorrow.

Model Verb Rule#Ought to


This one is used in English grammar as a modal verb to indicate a stronger sense of obligation or intensity for expressing situations where you would normally use “should”.

  • Example: They ought to be there; after all, it is their party!


So, there you have it, all the details regarding the use of modal verbs, definition, and use along with examples.

If you have any queries, feel free to mention that in the comments section.

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