10 Modal Verbs in English (Uses & Examples)

10 Modal Verbs in English! English Modal verbs are an important part of the language. They help to express subtle nuances in meaning and can make your communication more effective. In this blog post, we will discuss the different types of auxiliary verbs and their uses. We will also provide some examples so that you can see how they are used in context. Keep reading to learn more!

Definition of Modal Verbs:

Modal verbs are those verbs that we can use as helping verbs to make our sentences grammatically correct.

For example:

  • I would like to go to the mall. (correct)
  • I want to go to the mall. (incorrect – should be “I want to go”)

10 Examples of Modal Verbs

10 modal verbs

Here are 10 modal verbs in English.


Shall is often used to express obligation, but it can also be used to talk about determination or promising.

For instance, “I shall never forget this day” could mean that the speaker has every intention of not forgetting the day.

On the other hand, “I shall lose my job if I find out who leaked the story” means that the speaker will lose their job.

  • I shall never forget this day. (obligation/determination)
  • I shall lose my job if I find out who leaked the story. (promising)


“Will” can be used to express future tense, but it is also used in place of “shall” or “should.”

For instance, in the sentence “I will see you tomorrow,” there is no obligation to make good on this promise. It is simply a statement of future intention.

However, in the sentence “You should take care of that cough or you could develop pneumonia,” it suggests obligation because of potential danger if an action is not taken.

  • I will see you tomorrow. (future tense)
  • You will take care of that cough or you could develop pneumonia. (suggested obligation)


“Would” is used to express past tense for the verb “will.”

For instance, in the sentence “I would like some coffee,” it suggests a hypothetical situation where the speaker is talking about what they would do if something else did or did not happen.

When “would” is used in this way, it generally suggests regret about what did or did not take place.

  • I would like some coffee. (hypothetical situation)
  • Sheila said she was tired so Tom offered to drive, but if Sheila hadn’t said it, I would have. (regret over what did or didn’t occur)


“Can” serves as an auxiliary verb for many other verbs such as “can speak,” “can play piano.” It is used to express possibility and ability.

For instance, if someone asked you whether you could help them with something, you would respond by saying “Yes, I can,” meaning that you are capable of doing what is being asked.

  • Yes, I can help you with that.

In contrast, the phrase “I cannot” suggests that there will be some obstacle preventing you from helping or from taking action in general.

  • I cannot help you with that.


“Could” can be used to express possibility and ability as well, but it is often a more polite way of making a request.

For instance, if someone asks you to pass the salt at the dinner table, you could respond with “Can I help you?” or “Yes, please.” However, it is more polite to respond with “Could I help you?”

  • Can I help you? / Yes, please.
  • Could I help you?

May & Might

“May” is used to express permission while “might” suggests a lack of certainty or possibility. The sentence “You may borrow my car” means that the person being talked to is permitted to borrow the car.

On the other hand, “You might borrow my car” means that it’s possible but not certain that they will be able to do so.

  • You may borrow my car. (permission)
  • I was thinking about buying a new laptop, but I don’t know if I should just yet. Maybe I might wait a bit longer. (possibility)

Might is also used to ask for permission, although it is considered a more polite way of doing so. For instance, if someone knocked on your door and asked if they could come in, you would respond by asking “May I help you?” which suggests that you have the authority to decide whether or not they can enter.

  • May I help you? (polite request for permission)

Can’t & Cannot

“Can’t” is used as a contraction of “cannot.”

For instance, if someone asked you what time it was, you could respond with “I cannot say.” However, it would be more common to say “I can’t say” even though the meaning is the same.

  • I cannot say.
  • I can’t say.

Cannot is also used on its own but, like “can,” it suggests that the speaker lacks ability or possibility. It has a stronger connotation of obligation than “can’t” however. For instance, in the sentence “You can’t go out tonight,” it suggests that it is not possible to leave the house. It also implies there is nothing preventing you from leaving.


“Should” is used to express obligation, advisability or expected future. For instance, if you were going on a trip and your friend told you “You should take an umbrella,” it suggests that the act of taking an umbrella is advisable given the circumstances.

  • You should take an umbrella. (advisability)

Should can also be used to make suggestions and recommendations in the present.

“You should take an umbrella,” can also be said when you see someone about to go out without one and want them to avoid getting wet for instance.

  • You should take an umbrella (informal suggestion in the present)


“Must” is used to express certainty or obligation. It is often paired up with other auxiliary verbs such as “must do,” “must go.”

For instance, the sentence “I must leave now” suggests that it’s necessary for you to do so and there will be consequences if you don’t.

  • I must leave now.
  • I should leave now.

Must can also be used to express presumption or to show how likely something is. For instance, the sentence “The doorbell must have rung” means that it’s very likely that someone pressed the doorbell since you didn’t hear anything else.

  • The doorbell must have rung (probability)

Ought to

“Ought to” is used to express advisability. It suggests that a particular action would be a good idea but is not required or necessary.

For instance, if your friend was going on a trip and told you “You ought to bring an umbrella,” it means that they think it would be advisable for you to bring one but it is not necessary.

  • You ought to bring an umbrella (advisability)

Infographics (10 Modal Verbs)

can could would will should shall can't ought to must may and might

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