Modal Verbs vs. Adverbs

Modal verbs and adverbs are used to give additional information about certain factors. In this lesson, we will learn their differences.

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

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between modal verbs and adverbs is their parts of speech even though they are both used to convey mood. Modal verbs are verbs that give additional information about the main verb, while adverbs are words that provide information about a verb, an adjective, an adverb, or a sentence.

Modal verbs (also known as modals and modal auxiliary verbs) are verbs that are used to provide additional information about the main verb. They are known as a type of auxiliary verbs. There are nine modals in the English language:

Here are some modals in action:

I must apologize for my behavior.

I may have been too harsh.

Modals are used for communicative purposes:

  • To talk about possibilities, probabilities, etc.

I could stay at my uncle’s house.

  • To ask for advice, permission, etc.

Can I use your phone to call my mother?

  • To talk about habits

He would go for a walk now and then.


Adverbs are words that can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a full sentence. Adverbs modify verbs to show how an action happened.

My dog barks loudly.

Here, we are modifying a verb.

My dog is quite loud.

Here, we are modifying an adjective to add intensity to the adjective.

My dog barks rather too loudly.

Here, we are modifying more than one adverb.

Unfortunately, my dog barks loudly.

Here, we are modifying an entire sentence to describe the general feeling of the sentence.


As you can see on the list, adverbs express different contexts. We also have the same function with modal verbs. Both are used to talk about moods. That is why some learners may be confused about when to use them. We will cover the areas where we can use either an adverb or a modal verb to convey our desired messages including:

  • Possibilities
  • Predictions
  • Assumptions
  • Willingness
  • Necessities
  • Habits

Talking about Possibilities

We can use adverbs (like possibly, likely, hopefully) and modals (such as can, could, may, and might) to discuss something we are unsure about. Take a look at the following examples:

I might go out.

I am possibly going out.

Talking about Predictions

When we want to make any predictions, we can use modals (such as will and would) and adverbs (like soon). Have a look:

Something bad will happen.

Something bad soon happens.

Talking about Assumptions

We also use modals (like should) and adverbs (such as seemingly and presumably) to talk about a declaration without firm proof. For example:

She should be married.

She is presumably married.

Talking about Willingness

Modals (such as will and would) and adverbs (like willingly and voluntarily) to show willingness and unwillingness for something. Here are some examples for clarity:

I will help you with your work.

I voluntarily helped you with your work.

Talking about Necessities

We also use both modals (such as must and shall) and adverbs (like urgently or necessarily) to discuss things that need to be done. Look:

The actions necessarily involved risks.

The actions must involve risks.

Talking about Habits

Habits are actions that are done routinely. We can use modals (like would and will) and adverbs (such as usually, routinely) to talk about these habits.

I would go for a walk every day.

I always go for a walk.


There are times when we cannot use adverbs to convey the same meaning as modals:

Talking about Abilities

We use modal verbs can and could to talk about powers and skills possessed to do a certain action. We cannot use adverbs to convey the same meaning. Have a look:

I can play chess.

My father could speak seven languages.

Talking about Permission

We use can, could, and may to give or ask for permission. May and could are more formal and politer. We cannot use adverbs to convey this message. For example:

Can I use your phone?

Could I use your phone?

May I use your phone?

Giving Advice

We often use can, could, should, and might to offer solutions or give someone a piece of advice. Adverbs, unfortunately, are unable to convey a meaning in this context.

You should study harder.

He could try adding some salt.


Can, could, will and would are used to request something from someone. We cannot use adverbs to do so.

Will you marry me?

Could you pick me up tomorrow?


Position of Adverbs

Adverbs are capable of appearing in different positions in a sentence. They must be close to the words they are modifying, which could be at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. Have a look:

Sometime, I stop and stare at the sky.

I am usually tired.

He is leaving for London next week.

Position of Modal Verbs

Unlike adverbs, modals are always in one place and will not change their position. They are always used before the main verb. Look:

Victoria must be out of her mind.

Albert should look after his kids.


Negative Modals

Modals can be used to make negative sentences. To do so, we add ‘not’ to the head of the sentence which is the modal verb. Watch:

I cannot see the stage.

I won't let them see my sadness.

Negative Adverbs

To make a negative sentence, we can use negative adverbs such as no, not, never, and nowhere.

I had never seen him before.

He is nowhere to be found.


Modals must be used with a main verb and cannot be used alone (unless it is in a short answer like “I can.”).

I must leave as soon as possible.

Modals also cannot be used with another modal in the same clause.

They will can call you.

They will call you.

They can call you and they will call you.


Adverbs are not bound to number in a clause and you can use as many adverbs as desired to convey the meaning you are after. However, be careful using too many adverbs may make your sentences chunky and hard to understand.

He smoked terribly often.

I was running quickly down the road because I was late.


We can use adverbs with modals to emphasize the meaning we are trying to indicate.

She could play masterfully.

She would always run for 18 miles.


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