"Modal Verbs" vs. "Normal Verbs" in the English grammar

Modal Verbs vs. Normal Verbs

Normal verbs and modal verbs are different types of verbs that may confuse learners. In this lesson, we will learn their differences and uses.

"Modal Verbs" vs. "Normal Verbs" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between normal verbs and modal verbs is that a normal verb may be the only verb of the sentence, while a modal verb is never the only verb of the sentence.

Normal Verbs

Normal verbs are verbs that show the subject's action or state. Normal verbs have several types, including:

Take a look at the following examples to see how these verbs work:

I used a hammer.

She cried so hard.

Modal verbs (also known as modals and modal auxiliary) are used to give additional information about the role of the main verb. Modal verbs are considered as a type of auxiliary verbs. We have nine modals in English:

Here are some of the modals in action:

She could help us find a better place.

I may visit their house this week.

Differences

Function

Modals functions as a helper to a main verb:

  • talk about possibilities, probabilities, etc.
  • ask for advice, permission, etc.
  • talk about habits

The murder could be his idea.

Here, we are talking about a possibility.

May I use your phone?

Here, we are asking for permission.

She would go for a walk every Sunday.

Here, we are talking about habits.

Normal verbs are used to express the action or the state of a subject:

I climbed up the tree.

They helped each other.

Question and Negation

While modals take a 'not' when making a negative statement, we cannot add 'not' to normal verbs. To make a negative statement, we add an auxiliary verb + not before the sentence's main verb. Have a look:

I wouldn't take away anything from her.

She does not like vegetables. (Not "She like not vegetables.")

When making questions, we invert the modal as the head of the sentence. However, with normal verbs, we cannot invert them as the sentence will make no sense to the audience. Instead, we add an auxiliary verb and invert it to create a question. For example:

She should be more serious. → Should she be more serious?

You remember it all too well. → Do you remember it all too well?

Not "Remember you it all too well?"

Limitation

Normal verbs can be the only verb in a clause. Modals, however, cannot be used alone and must be accompanied by the main verb (unless it is in a short answer like "We shall." "I will."). Modals cannot be used with another modal. Another point that needs your attention is that each clause must have a main verb but not necessarily a modal. Here are some examples:

I will complete the mission as soon as possible.

I will eat the pizza. (I will can eat the pizza.)

I ate the pizza.

Inflection

Normal verbs inflect (they get different suffixes like: –s, -ing, -ed), but modals do not, and are always used in the base form. These are some examples for clarity:

He should leave the compound as soon as possible. (Not "He shoulding leave the compound as soon as possible.")

He called me when he arrived.

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