What are Modal Verbs
Modal Verbs are a type of auxiliary verbs that expresses necessity, ability or possibility. In this article, we are going to discuss what modal verbs are and their functions.
Modal verbs can be used to express ability, possibility, permission or obligation. Modal verbs in the English Language include can, could, may, might, shall, should, will and would.
It is important to notice that modal verbs exist in pairs. And one is considered the past form of another.
Examples of Modal Verbs
However, there are some other major differences between these word pairs as well. In this article, we are going to look at the functions of these words individually.
It can be dangerous to wander alone at night. – Possibility (can is used to state a general possibility)
She can speak Chinese, Japanese and Korean. – Ability
Can I have a glass of water? – Request
Can I borrow your pen? – Permission (informal)
It could be dangerous to wander alone at night. – Possibility (indicate a weaker possibility.)
She could speak Chinese, Japanese and Korean. – Ability (in the past)
Could I have a glass of water? – Request (formal)
Difference Between Can and Could
May I go out? – Asking for permission
Yes, you may go. – Granting permission.
We may attend the meeting. – Possibility that is likely to come true.
Might I go out? – Asking for permission (very formal)
We might attend the meeting. – Possibility that is unlikely to come true.
Difference Between May and Might
Shall I help you with your luggage? – Suggestion/offer
You should pay more attention. – Advice
You should lock the door when you go out – obligation
I’ll help you if you like. – Offer
Will you please turn down the volume. – Request/ demand (less polite than would)
She’ll return next year. – Prediction
Would you please turn down the volume. – request (polite)
Would you like to have some tea? – offer
If I were you, I would apologize from him. – hypothesis
As seen from the example sentences, modal verbs are always followed by an infinitive of another verb. They cannot stand alone in a sentence. However, unlike other verbs, modal verbs do not require an auxiliary verb to form their negatives or interrogatives. A modal verb is made negative by simply adding ‘not’ after the verb.
It may not rain tomorrow.
He will not attend the meeting.
The interrogative form is formed by inverting the subject and the verb.
He can sing.→ Can he sing?
He should come to school.→ Should he come to school?
Modal Verbs – Summary
- Modal verbs indicate modality – ability, possibility, probability, permission and obligation.
- Can, could, may, might, shall, should, will and would are examples of modal verbs.
- Modal verbs cannot function alone in a sentence; they are directly followed by an infinitive of another verb.
- Modal verbs are made negative by simply adding ‘not’ after the modal verb, and the interrogative is formed by the inversion of the subject and the verb.
- Modal verbs are not subject to inflections.