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Modal auxiliary verbs are used to moderate the main verb - to enhance or restrict the verb to a
certain context.
The most common modal auxiliaries in English are:
can
may
might
must
could
should
will
would
Notice the usage of modals in the following sentences:
I pay my taxes.
General declaration of fact. Paying taxes is
something I normally do.
I can pay my taxes.
Expresses ability. I have the means (funds) to
pay.
I might pay my taxes.
Expresses possibility, but not certainty.
Maybe I will pay; maybe I won't.
I will pay my taxes.
Expresses future intent. I resolve to do it at
some later time.
I should pay my taxes.
Expresses mild obligation. It is required, and
I expect to comply.
I could pay my taxes.
Expresses possibility. If I have nothing else
to do with the money, I might pay taxes.
I would pay my taxes.
(In this case), expresses reservation. If I had
the money (but I don't). . .
I must pay my taxes.
Expresses strong obligation. I am required
and have to comply.
Modals are followed by only the base form of the verb and are not used alone unless there is a
clear connection to a main verb.
He must to finish his homework.
WRONG
He must finish his homework.
RIGHT
Jack could heard the bell.
WRONG
Jack could hear the bell.
RIGHT
Penny will going to the movie.
WRONG
Penny will go to the movie.
RIGHT
There are many ways to make requests in English. The most common involves using the
imperative and modals. See the examples below:
Using the Imperative
The imperative is the simple form of the verb. The
subject of an imperative sentence is understood as "you" although it is usually not spoken.
Open the door.
(You) open the door.
Will you help me?
Yes, I will (help you).
Pick up your toys.
(You) pick up your toys.
Please help me.
(You) please help me.
The imperative is often used by persons of authority when speaking to subordinates, e.g. parent
to child.
Using Modals
To show respect and politeness, most people use modal
expressions when making requests. For example:
Will you...?
Will you open the door for me?
Would you...?
Would you open the door for me?
Would you please...?
Would you please open the door (for me)?
Could you (please)...?
Could you (please)...? Could you (please) open the door?
Could you possibly...?
Could you possibly open the door?
Would you kindly...?
Would you kindly open the door?
Would you mind (Ving )...?
Would you mind opening the door?
Would you be so kind as to...?
Would you be so kind as to open the door?
Common Problems with Modals
1. Using "to" unnecessarily:
Incorrect
Correct
They going to meet us at the theater.
They are going to meet us at the theater.
He should to eat his dinner.
He should eat his dinner.
I had better to go now.
I had better go now.
You must not to use that pencil.
You must not use that pencil.
2. Using anything but the base form after a modal:
John could heard the bell.
John could hear the bell.
Penny will going to the movie.
3. Using double modals:
You should ought to speak English.
Penny will go to the movie.
She might can help me.
4. Omitting "be" in certain modal expressions:
She might be able to help me.
They going to meet us at the theater.
Jack supposed to take his medicine.
5. Using wrong word order in questions:
How I can help you?
Where I should go for the meeting?
You ought to speak English. /should speak
They are going to meet us at the theater.
Jack is supposed to take his medicine.
How can I help you?
Where should I go for the meeting?
Simple Modals
Will
Won't
Can
Can't
May
Could
Couldn't
Should
Shouldn't
(in future tense)
(in requests)
(negative of will)
(to indicate ability)
(in requests)
(informally to ask permission)
(negative form of can)
(to indicate possibility)
(to ask permission)
(to indicate past ability)
(to indicate possibility)
(in requests)
(to ask permission)
(negative past tense)
(to express obligation)
(to conjecture)
(negative suggestions)
I will be there.
Will you do it for me?
No, I won't.
I can do it.
Can you help me?
Can I use your phone?
No, you can't.
I may go to New York.
May I help you?
He could play cards well.
I could give you a ride.
Could you open the door please?
Could I use your restroom?
I couldn't help it.
I should go to the wedding.
He should be in Miami by now.
You shouldn't do that.