Modals in English Grammar

In the country of verbs, 'modals' is one of its states where its population are special kinds of verbs. They have their own rules and behave differently.

10 articles


We have two main types of verbs which are called main verbs and modal verbs. Let us learn more about modal verbs.


Semi-modals are the subcategory of modal verbs. So it is good to get the difference between modal verbs and semi-modal verbs to use them properly.

Can and Could

Talent shows are a big thing now in our pop culture. If you want to participate in them, you should know how to talk about your abilities. Learn about it here!

May and Might

May and Might are modal verbs. Some people think they are interchangeable, especially in speech, but is there really no differences between these two?

Will and Would

These two modals are often confusing for learners, because they are used in kind of similar occasions. But they're different. To know their differences, click!

Shall and Should

'Shall' and 'Should' are like relatives, because 'Should' is the past tense of 'Shall', but they have different functions despite their similarities.

Must and Have to

'Have to' and 'must' have the same meaning and are used to express obligations. However, they are used in different situations and are not interchangeable.

Ought to and Had Better

'Ought to' and 'Had Better' are used for giving advice and recommendations. These are used differently and can mean different things. Start learning!

Dare and Need

'Dare' and 'need' have characteristics of both modal verbs and main verbs. Because of this, they are called semi-modals. In this lesson, we'll learn about them.

Used to

One of the functions of this expression is to talk about repeated actions in the past which we don't do in the present. To learn about more functions, click!


Modal verbs (also called modals or modal auxiliary verbs), are special verbs which give additional information about the function of the main verb that follows them. Modals have a wide variety of communicative functions (i.e. modality), such as:

  • Probability
  • Possibility
  • Ability
  • Obligation
  • Advice
  • Permission
  • Prohibition
  • Lack of necessity
  • Habits

Characteristics of Modal Verbs

Here are some characteristics of modal verbs:

  1. They never change their form. You can't add 's', 'ed', 'ing'...
  2. They are usually followed by an infinitive without 'to' (i.e. the bare infinitive.)
  3. They make questions by inversion ('she can go' becomes 'can she go?')
  4. Modal verbs are negated by the addition of the word not after them
  5. Modals can appear in tag questions without the main verb being expressed (...can he?, Would they?)

English Modal Verbs

The principal English modal verbs are:

Modal Verb Use
can ability, permission, possibility
could ability in the past, polite permission, possibility
may permission, possibility, probability
might polite permission, possibility, probability
must strong obligation, logical conclusion, certainty
shall suggestion
should obligation, advice, logical conclusion
will wish, request, demand, order, habit
would wish, request, habits in the past

Present-past Pairs of Modals

Some of the modals come in present–past pairs:
Note that the past forms are not necessarily used to refer to past time, and in some cases they are near synonyms to the present forms.


Some verbs share only some of the characteristics of the modals. These verbs are called semi-modals (or pseudo-modals or quasi-modals).
Some of the semi-modals of English are:

  1. Ought to
  2. Had better
  3. Dare
  4. Need
  5. Used to