modal verbsAs if English wasn’t hard enough to learn, modal verbs complicate things even further. There are a lot of irregularities in the English language that can be confusing to students learning it as a second to their native tongue. We don’t have genders like a lot of languages, instead we stick with “a” or “the”; we have 12 tenses most of which are never used; and we have so many similar words that often get mixed up like accept/except, bear/bare, and their/there. English and other Germanic languages, however, utilize modal verbs to help express a function and are vital to gaining command of the English language.

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What are Modal Verbs?

Modal verbs are used in conjunction with verbs to express their function. Examples are permission, obligation, lack of necessity, possibility, ability, prohibition, advice and probability. You must remember that modal verbs are followed by an infinitive but without the word “to”. Must in the last sentence is an example of a modal verb. Modal verbs are different from other auxiliary verbs as they cannot stand alone in a sentence. They should always be followed by the base verb word (infinitive) like, play, work, run, and eat. Conjugated verbs such as: likes, played, working, ran and eats do not work with modal verbs. For a true beginner student of English this elementary English course will teach you the basic concepts, grammar, numbers and the alphabet.

List of Modal Verbs

Must – to have to, or to be highly likely. Must can be used to express 100% certainty, a logical deduction or prohibition depending on the context.

Can – to be able to, to be allowed to, or possible. Can is a very common modal verb in English. It’s used to express ability, permission and possibility.

Could –to be able to, to be allowed to, or possible. Could is used when talking about an ability in the past or for a more polite way to ask permission.

May – to be allowed to, it is possible or probable

Might – to be allowed to, possible or probable. Might is used when discussing something that has a slight possibility of happening, or to ask for permission in a more polite way.

Need – necessary

Should – to ask what is the correct thing to do, to suggest an action or to be probable. Should usually implies advice, a logical deduction or a so-so obligation.

Had better – to suggest an action or to show necessity

Will – to suggest an action or to be able to

Would – to suggest an action, advice or show possibility in some circumstances

Test yourself with this daily grammar practical. Understanding fundamental grammar concepts will help you learn to speak English with grace and ease.

Modal verbs are so common that most English speakers don’t even know what the grammatical name for them is. Note that modal auxiliary verbs are a type of auxiliary verb. Auxiliary verbs encompass tenses, aspects, modality (modal verbs), voice, emphasis and so on. There are many other category of verbs in English like phrasal verbs. In this ESL (English as a Second Language) skills course you can learn natural English phrases. Learn even more about English grammar in this introduction to grammar course.

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