When to Use Modals?

Do you really have to use all verbs in the same way? But there are verbs that do not follow the usual rules. Learning on how to use it could be very helpful to us.

It’s true that not all verbs are used in the same way. In fact, there’s a particular group of verbs called ‘modal verbs’ that are used very differently to the usual verbs you might be used to.
So what are they really and how do they alike?

What is a modal verb?
Modal verbs are used in four different ways:
1. Expressing how likely or unlikely something is to happen
E.g. “There’s no way he can pass his test. He never revised at all.”
2. Expressing the ability to do something:
E.g. “She could run talk than anyone else in the group.”
3. Giving or asking for advice about something:
E.g. “You should get some sleep more, then you’d feel less tired.”
4. Asking for permission to do something:
E.g. “Please may I borrow the car tonight?”

Which verbs are modal verbs?
The most common modal verbs you are likely to come across are “can”, “may”, “shall” and “will”, or their alternative forms “could”, “might”, “should” and “would”.

Some of these can be used in different ways to express any of the four main uses of modal verbs above. “Can” and “Could” can be used to express the likelihood of something happening, or we can also use it for any of the other categories:
• To express possibility: “I know you can do this, you’ve worked really hard.”
• To express ability: “I can speak four languages fluently.”
• To give advice: “You can try this new medication to see if it will help.”
• To ask or give permission: “You can borrow my jumper if you want.”

Not all modal verbs are as flexible though! A verb like “may” has an exemption. It is usually only used to ask for or give permission to do something.

How to use them?
So now we know what a modal verb is, how do you know one?
One important rule to remember is that you don’t use “-s” at the end, in the third person.
For example, you would say “she walks to work” but with a modal verb, you would say “she can walk to work”.
To turn a modal verb into a negative is quite simple – you just need to add “not” to the sentence structure.
E.g. “You may not go to the meeting tomorrow.”
To use them in the past tense, you cannot simply add the ending “-ed”. Instead you use the alternative versions “could have”, “might have”, “should have” and “would have.”
E.g. “She could have passed the test if she prepared earlier.”
E.g. “You might have been able to go if you hadn’t been rude.”
Your turn
As always, practice makes everything easier, so the best way to get a grip on using modal verbs is to use them as often as you can!
Try using each modal verb category at least once – in both the past and present forms. For some variety, throw in some negatives too!
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