Modal verbs are also known as modals and are used to give additional information about the main verb. Let us learn more about them.

"Modals" in the English Grammar

What Are 'Modals'?

'Modals' (also called modal verbs or modal auxiliary verbs) are special verbs that give additional information about the function of the main verb that follows them. Modals have a wide variety of communicative functions.

Modal verbs in English are:

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as 'tense division' for modals, we mean, some of them can be used in past form and present form.

General Rules of Modal Verbs

How to Conjugate Modals with Different Subjects?

The only way to conjugate modal verbs with all persons is the basic form of them; in other words, they never change, we mean the rules of adding s, -ing, or -ed only dedicate to main verbs not modal verbs.

Nikolai must have been here. (Not 'Nikolai musted be here.')

I will swim in this pool. (Not 'I willing swim in this pool.')

She shall ride at dawn. (Not 'She shalls ride at dawn.')

using the modal 'will' in a sentence

Can They Stand Alone?

Actually, modals do not complete the meaning of a sentence on their own. Therefore, they need another verb to make sense. The rule of adding verbs to modals is to add the basic form of the verb.

I might walk to my house, if it doesn’t rain.

I might to my house, if doesn't rain makes no logical sense, in this example.

I can drive trucks and it is fun.

She would like to drink a cup of coffee.

You should wash your hands every time you enter the house.

How to Make Negative Sentences with Modals?

In order to make a modal verb negative, all you have to do is to add 'not' to the modal verb.

Alina cannot get out of her room.

If I were you I wouldn't marry Damon.

You must not smoke here, look at the no-smoking sign!


Sometimes, by contracting negative modal verbs, we have a change in the main appearance of the verb. Such as:

He won't travel to Italy.

Here in this example, 'won't' is the contracted form of 'will not'.

The modal verb 'can', has two negative forms, one is can not and the other is cannot which is used as a single term in formal writings. Remember we are not allowed to write cann't for contraction; the correct form is can't.

David can't pay the rent.

My sisters can not get along well with each other.

Researchers must do more to ensure that human cells cannot be taken without consent.

However, it is rare to use shan't in informal and daily speaking English, it is the technical contracted form of 'shall not.'

I shan't drink alcohol at all.

How to Make Questions with Modals?

Modals are also used when making questions. In this case, we put the modal verb at the beginning of the sentence. In wh- questions we put the interrogative word at the beginning of the sentence followed by a yes/no question.

Should I accept his proposal?

May I go out?

Can you wait a little for me?

What would you do, if you were me?

When will you arrive to the station?

How Modals Work in Tag Questions?

'Modals' can appear in tag questions as well. They are made without the main verb being expressed (Can he?, Would they?). Generally, when the main sentence is affirmative the following tag question must be negative and vice versa.

He can speak Italian, can't he? (Not 'He can speak Italian, can he?')

They wouldn't follow us, would they?

You cannot be more patient, can you?

I shouldn't call him, should I?


You must have a comma before tag questions.

You won't never ever leave me, will you?

Jake should start practicing for the big match, shouldn't he?

Are Modal Verbs Different from Auxiliary Verbs?

Modals are a special kind of auxiliary verbs. That is why they are also called modal auxiliary verbs.

modal verbs auxiliary verbs
making the tense/voice
can be conjugated
making the inversion/negation
being used more than once

For example:

It will have been made.

'Been' and 'have' are auxiliary verbs. So it is possible to have more than one auxiliary verbs in a sentence.

When there are both auxiliary verbs and modal verbs in a sentence, the modal is used for negation or interrogation. Look:

I will be walking there. → Will you be walking there?

She should not have done that.


Modal verbs precede the main verb to give more information about the function of a verb. These verbs are used to express probability, possibility, ability, obligation, advice, permission, prohibition, lack of necessity, habits by using the following words as modal verbs:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • will
  • would
  • shall
  • should


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

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