Modal Expressions

Modal expressions are not modal verbs. But they can imply the same concept as modal verbs do. These expressions are used to indicate a special mood. Read more.

What Are Modal Expressions in English?

What Are Modal Expressions?

Modal expressions are not expressions that are made of modals. They are used to indicate probability, possibility, commands, etc. In this article, we will learn the expressions. First, you have become acquainted with the expressions through a short list.

  • be about
  • be bound
  • be due
  • be likely
  • be
  • wish/if only
  • as if/as though

Be About

'be about' is used to:

  • to express events that happen in immediate future

I am about to visit Jake.

He is about to go home.

  • arranged actions

They are about to empty the trash and wash the dishes.

The plane is about to leave.

  • to express we are ready to do something

I am about to leave the house for Sam's birthday.

They are about to have a child.

  • to express we are planning to do something

I am about to book the tickets for may the fifth.

I am about to reserve the room for our stay.

Using 'Be About' in a Sentence

In the expression 'be about,' the verb 'be' shows that we need (am, is are) in present form. The important point to consider is that 'be about' is followed by a 'to infinitive.' Check these examples out:

My mother is about to call the police due to the burglary.

His car is about to explode because of the bomb.

Thor and hulk are about to escape the prison. Watch the movie please.

Using 'Be About' in Past Tense

When it comes to the past tense, the structure of the expression stays the same as the structure in the present tense unless you are supposed to use the past tense of the verb 'be' (was, were). Take a look at the examples:

She was about to slap him when the teacher appeared out of the blue.

They were about to marry each other.

Workers were about to go on strike, but they didn't.

Be Bound

The expressions with bound are used to indicate levels possibilities. Expressions with bound are used to express:

  • certainty

It is five p.m. in Turkey now, I'll be bound.

He won't be back, I'll be bound.

  • high possibility

I am bound to do her homework. She has an important match tomorrow.

She is bound to find out.

  • obligation

She is bound by her boss to finish the project by tomorrow.

I am bound by my parents to take care of my siblings.

Using Bound to Express Certainty

This structure is considered old-fashioned and it is no longer used in modern English. The expression 'be bound' can follow the modal verb 'will' to indicate we are sure that something we have just said is true. Check these examples out:

The weather is cold. I will be bound.

She is kind. I'll be bound.

Using Bound to Express High Possibility

The expression 'be bound,' can be followed by a 'to-infinitive' to express there is a high possibility for you to do something. Here are the examples:

She is bound to stay home tonight.

Peter is bound to go to Goyri's house.

Using 'Bound' to Express Obligation

The expression 'be bound' can be followed by (by + objective pronoun/noun/noun phrase + to-infinitive) to indicate that you actually have not much choice. In this case, you have to do the action whether you like it or not, because it is usually supported by rules and laws. These examples might help you understand the concept:

I am bound by him to send the emails.

The man is bound by the court to stay exiled.

Using 'Be bound' in the Past Tense

The existence of the verb be in this structure makes it easy to make it past. The only thing to do is to use the past tense of the verb be (was, were). Learn them through the examples:

I was bound to cook for dinner.

Nate and Ian were bound to babysit the kids.


The expressions made by due are different in their structure. So let us explain them one by one:

Be Due

The expression 'be due' is used to express an event that is planned or expected to happen at a certain time. Here are the examples:

People are due to vote for their elected president.

The train is due to arrive at eight.

Be Due for

The expression 'be due for' is used when one is expecting to get or receive something because they deserve it. Check these examples out for more clarification:

She is due for the house as the winner of the competition.

I am due for a good grade, I was studying the whole night.

Using 'Due' in a Sentence

The expression 'be due' is used either before (to-infinitive) or (for + noun/noun phrase). Here is an example that can be useful:

Hanna is due to pick up David from school.

She is due for a promotion.

Using 'Due' in the Past Tense

In expressions with 'due,' there is a 'to be' verb that can change the tense of the sentence. So using the 'to be' verb in the past tense changes the tense of the sentence to the past tense. Check these examples out:

Sam was due to get the prize.

We are due to hand in our homework by 10 p.m.

The cars were due for the price.


The expression 'to be likely' is used to express events that are probably going to happen in the future. In the examples, you can understand the usage of this expression better:

Pina is likely to be there tonight.

It is likely that Enzo is trying to ditch us.

Using 'Be likely' in a Sentence

The expression 'be likely' can be followed by a (to-infinitive) to express something is probable to happen. This expression can also be followed by a (that-clause) with the same meaning. Check out the examples:

This is likely to be the best Christmas ever.

It is likely that the final exams are going to be online.

using the modal expression 'due to' in a sentence


It is important to know that the expression 'to be likely' cannot be followed by a that-clause unless the subject of the sentence is the pronoun 'it.' In other words, this is a fixed expression. For example:

It is likely that the school is going to be rebuilt.

This is likely that the school is going to be rebuilt.

Negative Forms

There are two different ways to make a negative sentence with be likely. We can either add the term 'not' to the 'to be' verb or use 'unlikely' instead of 'likely.'* Take a look at the examples:

It is unlikely that we throw a party. The bride caught a cold.

They were not likely to come to the festival.

Using 'Be Likely' in the Past Tense

The verb 'to be' is used in the past tense form to make it possible to use 'be likely' in the past tense. For example:

She was likely to get angry because of the change in plans.

The homeless dogs were likely to be transferred to the shelter.


The verb 'be' can be used in a special structure and it is considered an expression. In this case, it is used to express:

  • official arrangements
  • official orders
  • that should be done things
  • prohibition (only in the negative)

Take a look at these examples:

You are to drink your milk honey.

You are not to sneak out again.

Using 'Be' as an Expression in Sentences

The verb be is used before a 'to-infinitive' to express different intentions. Remember to use this structure for prohibiting, you need to use it in the negative form which is to add the term 'not' to the 'to be' verb. Here are the examples:

What is she to do?

I am not to work tonight.

My sister is to take a trip to Italy.

Using 'Be' in the Past Tense

Using the past tense of the verb 'be' followed by a to-infinitive or to-perfect infinitive makes a sentence in the past tense. Check these examples:

Princess Merida was to marry Hooky to save the throne.

My friends were to have gone swimming.


The important point to keep in mind is that using a perfect infinitive after 'be to' refers to an event that did not happen or was canceled. Compare these two examples:

She was to give the lecture.

She planned to do it and did it finally.

Here, she was to have given the lecture.

Here, she could not give the lecture.

'Wish' and 'If Only'

We can use the phrases 'wish' and 'if only' as an expression to express:

  • future desire for yourself or others
  • an impossible desire
  • regret
  • annoyance

Using 'Wish' to Express Future Desire

You usually use the fixed expression 'wish somebody,' to express a future desire that you have for someone else. The verb wish can also be followed by a 'to-infinitive' to express a desire that somebody has for himself or herself. For example:

I wish to be there with you.

I wish you the best.


You can use wish and if only with modal verbs 'would' and 'could' to express what you believe is impossible in the present or past tense.

If only he could act well.

I wish my sister would spend more time with me.

Using 'Wish' and 'If Only' to Express an Impossible Desire

'Wish' and 'if only' are followed with a past tense to express an impossible or unlikely desire in the present. Check the examples out:

If only I had a car.

I wish I booked the hotel.

Using 'Wish' and 'If Only' to Express Regret

'Wish' and 'if only' are followed by a past perfect tense to express a past regret. It means that you wish a situation could have changed but it cannot.

I wish he hadn't taken the poison.

If only she had studied more.

Using 'Wish' and 'If Only' to Express Annoyance

'Wish' is followed by the negative form of the verb 'would' to express we are annoyed about something that someone does or does not.

I wish you wouldn't spit while talking.

She wishes he wouldn't burp while having dinner.

'As if' and 'as Though'

We use 'as though' or 'as if' to give an example of one particular concept but we know that it is not the exact explanation. For example:

It was a round object as if a ball.

His heart was cold and hard as though a stone.

'As if' and 'as though' are used to:

  • emphasize that something is not true or important
  • make comparisons
  • describe situations that may not be true but they are likely
  • express that you do not believe something is possible (only as if)

Look at the examples:

She didn't answer my calls as if it mattered anyway!

You seem as if we have never been friends before.

They acted as though they wanted to leave soon.

"Are you married?" "as if"

Using 'as If' and 'as Though' In a Sentence

'As though' and 'as if' are followed by a non-finite clause or prepositional phrase. 'as though' and 'as if' can be used before independent clauses as well.
Another point to keep in mind, is that you can use 'as if' alone as a fixed expression to show surprise in informal style.

She moved her wrist as if to punch him in the face.

'To punch' makes a non-finite clause in this example.

She laughed as though all his anger was gone.

You talk as if I knew what was going on.

"Did he fire him?" "as if"

Would Rather and Would Sooner

'Would rather' and 'would sooner' are used when you prefer one thing to another. Would sooner and would rather mean the same however using would rather is more common.

I would rather stay at home tonight. I do not feel well.

She would sooner stay alone for the rest of her life.

Using Would Rather and Would Sooner in a Sentence

There are two constructions when it comes to 'would sooner' and 'would rather.'
When the subjects in both clauses are the same, they are followed by a bare infinitive. When the subjects in the clauses are different the second clause following 'would rather' and 'would sooner' is in past tense however the meaning remains in the present tense.

She would sooner pick the long dress.

I would rather you replied sooner.

Remember when the subject is different it has to be placed as the subject of the clause.


Remember, you are not allowed to use to-infinitive or verb+ing after 'would sooner' and 'would rather.' Check out these examples:

Peter would rather cook dinner. (Not "Peter would rather to cook dinner.")

I would rather work more on it. (Not "I would rather working more on it.")


In sentences with the same subjects, the term 'not' is added to 'would rather' or 'would sooner' followed by the bare infinitive. In sentences with different subjects, the term 'not' is added to the verb of the second clause. Here are the examples:

I would rather not disturb her.

She would rather he did not sneak out at night.

Using Would Rather and Would Sooner in the Past Tense

You can use 'have + past participle' (present perfect) after 'would rather' and 'would sooner' to talk about things that you preferred to be done in the past tense when the subjects are the same. But whenever the subjects are different, you have to use 'had + past participle' (past perfect) to talk about the past. For example:

She would rather have lived in the village.

They would sooner he had stopped talking at lunch.


Modal verbs are used to express concepts such as possibility, ability, permission, assumption, etc. You need to know that modal expressions are not made of modal verbs, instead, they are used to express the same concepts as modal verbs do. Here are the most important expressions on the list:

  • be about
  • be likely
  • be
  • be bound
  • be due
  • wish/if only
  • as if/as though


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