Basic Modals

Basic Modals


Modal auxiliary verbs are used to moderate the main verb, that is 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:

Incorrect Correct
John could heard the bell.  John could hear the bell.
Penny will going to the movie. Penny will go to the movie.

3. Using double modals:

Incorrect Correct
You should ought to speak English. You ought to speak English. / should speak
She might can help me. She might be able to help me.

4. Omitting “be” in certain modal expressions:

Incorrect Correct
They going to meet us at the theater. They are going to meet us at the theater.
Jack supposed to take his medicine. Jack is supposed to take his medicine

5. Using wrong word order in questions:

Incorrect Correct
How I can help you? How can I help you?
Where I should go for the meeting? Where should I go for the meeting?

See also :

Grammar : Common Modal Usage

Vocabulary : Simple Modals

Modal Verb Introduction (from

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