To learn how modal verbs are used to express ability, possibility, necessity or other conditions, go to the NEXT PAGE.


Modal verbs are also called modal auxiliary verbs, modal auxiliaries, or simply modals. These verbs are a subcategory of auxiliary verbs, which means they cannot be used without a main verb. English has ten modal verbs.

can could
may might
shall should
will would
must ought to

While the meaning and usage of modal verbs is complicated, the grammar is simple. Modal verbs are not conjugated: they have no tense and no person, so they never change. All modal verbs must be followed by a main verb in the base form WITHOUT to. eg. EAT ( base form ) .

subject modal verb main verb (base form)
They can come.
Mike should walk.
You must go.
We will wait.
She ought to study. ( Careful - She ought study. )

In statements, the word order is subject + modal + main verb.

subject modal verb main verb (+ complements)
Tom and Sue might arrive later.
Everyone can swim.

In questions, the word order changes to modal + subject + main verb. Here are some examples with Yes / No questions.

modal verb subject main verb
Can they come?
Should Mike drive?

Here are some examples with Wh- questions.

Wh- word modal verb subject main verb
When can they eat?
How could he walk?

When forming negative statements, the negative adverb NOT is placed between the modal verb and the main verb.

subject modal verb adverb main verb complements
You must not disturb the baby.
They should not drive at night.

When asking questions in the negative, the modal verb and a negative adverb NOT are always contractions.

modal + not (contracted) subject main verb complements
Couldn’t Tom come to the party?
Shouldn’t you rest?  

To learn how modal verbs are used to express ability, possibility, necessity or other conditions, go to the NEXT PAGE.


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