10 Easy Ways to Use Modal Verbs

10 Easy Ways to Use Modal Verbs
  • In this lesson, you will learn how to use modal verbs to express ability, advice, deduction, assumption, intention, willingness, obligation, permission, possibility, and requests.

What Are Modal Verbs?

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that express ability, advice, deduction, assumption, intention, willingness, obligation, permission, possibility, and requests.

Modal Verbs for Ability

The modal verbs, can and could, are used to express ability, while will be able and shall be able are used to express future ability. Here are some examples:

  • Can she drive?
  • We can swim.
  • Will you be able to do the task?
  • He could play the piano.

Generally speaking, can is the present tense form, while could is the past tense form, however, could is also used in the present tense form when there is an idea of condition. Take a look at these:

  • Could you fix the machine? (if the need arose)
  • I could get you a job. (if you want one)

There`s more to the use of could — you can use could to communicate ability for an action that was not performed. It`s pretty easy; see these examples:

  • The woman could have given you her car, but you didn`t ask.
  • We could have cleaned the office if you told us.

Please note that can be able is tautological, hence ungrammatical. It`s okay to say/write:

  • I can draw.
  • I`m able to draw.

However, it is wrong to say/write:

  • I can be able to draw.

Modal Verbs for Advice

Must, ought to, would, should, might and may are mostly used for advice. Read these sentences:

  • You must avoid driving at night.
  • You ought to see the manager.
  • I would advise you to see a doctor.
  • You should stop smoking.
  • You might want to see a therapist.
  • You may as well resume tomorrow.

Modal Verbs for Assumption

Will, should, and ought to are used to express assumptions. Look at these:

  • He will know the answer, you should ask him.
  • The director should be in her office now.
  • The lady ought to be cleaning the office already.

Modal Verbs for Deduction

These modal verbs are used to express what we deduce from already stated premises: must, may/might express affirmative deductions, while cant`/couldn`t express negative deductions. You`ll understand better with these examples:

  • Judging by the way he speaks, he must be a graduate.
  • It`s unusual for the accountant to be absent; he may be ill.
  • Considering their rapport, they might have agreed on the terms.
  • You can`t be late; you live two houses away.
  • She couldn`t have seen the project manager yesterday; he left for France last week.

Modal Verbs for Intention

We express intentions using shall and will.

  • We shall submit the proposal tomorrow.
  • I will type the letter today.

Modal Verbs for Obligation

Must, ought to and should are used to express obligation. Here are some examples:

  • The employees ought to be at the training.
  • We should obey all the rules.

Modal Verbs for Permission

Modal verbs used in asking and granting permission are can, could, and may.

  • You can sleep in the office.
  • We could attend parties on weekends. (expressing permission in the past)
  • May I come in now? (may is usually more formal than can)

Modal Verbs for Possibility

May, might, and could are used to express possibility.

  • The expatriates may arrive today.
  • If the clients heard the news, they might call us immediately.
  • Our trainees could be in the office.

Modal Verbs for Request

Can, could, may, will, and would are used to make requests. Can and could are usually used with I/we as exemplified below:

  • Can I have the files?
  • Can we see the director?
  • May I have a copy of the proposal? (more polite than can)
  • Could I speak with the officer?
  • Could we have our letters now?

Will and would are usually used with you to express requests with varying degrees of politeness.

  • Will you please shut the door?
  • Would you please make the corrections? (more polite)

Here are other forms of making requests:

  • You couldn`t assist me with the project, could you?
  • You`ll wait for me, won`t you?
  • Would you mind not smoking indoor?
  • Would you be kind enough to send the necessary documents?
  • I wish you would stop referring to me as Sir.

Modal Verbs for Willingness

Will and shall are commonly used to express willingness.

  • I will see you in the office.
  • She will come if you invite her.
  • Does he mean he will fund the project?

Now that you Know…

Now you can use modal verbs correctly to express ability, advice, deduction, assumption, intention, willingness, obligation, permission, possibility, and requests.

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