Modal auxiliary verbs: meaning, types, rules, usage, and examples

All modal verbs in English with examples

We usually use modal verbs (auxiliary ) in English to express ability, obligation, possibility,  permission, advice or for a request. In this lesson we are going to see the meaning, types, rules, usage, and examples of modals in English.

Modal verbs in English are :

 Can  Could
 May  Might
 Must  Ought to
 Shall  Should
 Will  Would
Have to Need to


  • have to and need to actually are not modal verbs, but they are ordinary verbs that are always followed by an infinitive without “to” just like modal verbs.
  • Modal verbs(auxiliary ) take direct negative and question forms. (eg: I shouldn’t,   Should I? )
  • They conserve the same form with all pronouns without adding s for the third person singular.
  • They are always followed by an infinitive without “to”

Now, after that, we got an idea about what “modal verbs” are and the features they have. Let’s take a look at each one of them and give more information and examples.



we use can to express (ability / permission / request)


I can read one book a week (ability (ability)
can I get the book? (permission)
can you open the door, please! (request)


it is less polite to use can in a formal request or permission. Instead of them we use “Could” for request and “May” for permission.


we use could to express a ( request )


could you open the door, please! (request)


we use may and might to express (permission / request / possibility )


May i have a short break? (permission)
May we get your help? (request)


  • we use may for polite requests or permission. In fact, we can use can or could for requests and permissions, but may its the most polite between them.
  • we use may and might for possibility. The only difference between them is: we use may for high possibility and might for low possibility.
  • we use may just with I/We pronouns so we can not say May you.


I have a call from him, he may visit us at any time.
I didn’t get any call from him, but he might visit us at any time.



we usually use should to express ( opinion / advice / expectation )


We have a lot to do tomorrow, we should wake up early. (opinion)
You are tired, you should take a break. (advice)
The plane should be landed now. (expectation)

Ought To:

we use ought to when we need to express what is necessary and good for something or someone. We use it to express ( advice / obligation )


You ought to  to know a lot at your age (advice)
You ought to change your mindset (advice)
We ought to study hard, or we gonna fail. (obligation)


we usually use must when we want to express a high necessity for something or someone. we use it to express ( obligation / certainty ).


I must reach the goal. or I will be frustrated. (obligation)
He must be tired. He spent all day playing with his friends. (certainty)
They must give their report today, or it will be late. (obligation)


we usually use will to express events in the future. We can use will to express ( promise / request / condition )


I will make it happen sooner or later. (promise)
Will you please help me with this lesson. (request)
You will be happy if you get high marks. (condition)



we often use shall to express (suggestion). We use it also to express future events instead of will with I and We.


Shall we help you? (suggestion)
Shall we go out to hangout? (suggestion)


we usually use would when we express (polite request). Also, it would be used as the past form of will.


I would not choose that color at my wedding.  
Would you mind giving me that book, please! (polite request)

Have to:

we usually use “have to” to express (low obligation).


You have to be careful, when you drive at night. (low obligation)
We have to back home early, to watch the last episode of our favorite series. (low obligation)
She has to study hard this year, in order to get high marks. (low obligation)

Need to:

we can also use “need to” to express (low obligation).


I need to study hard to get hight marks.  
You need to develop your skills to be creative.  


  • Have to and need to: actually are not modal verbs, but they are ordinary verbs that are always followed by an infinitive without to just like modal verbs.
  • The only difference is that they can combine with modal verbs, unlike modal verbs, that they can’t be combined with other modal verbs.


I will have to develop my skills.  
I may need to develop my skills.  

as you can see, modal verbs are not that hard like many people think.
now, after we learned almost everything about modals in English. Let’s recap all what we learned in this lesson to make it easy for you to revise.

English Modal Verbs Table

Modal Verbs Expressions Examples
can ability I can swim
  permission We are tired Can we have a break for 10min ?
  request Can you open the window, please!
could request Could you give me that book, please!
  permission Could I have a sit with you?
will Future event Tomorrow, I will go to unuversity.
  request Will you mind helping us with this lesson.
would polite request Would you mind giving me that mug, please
may permission May I ask a question?
  possibility The plane may be landed by now.
might possibility I didn’t get any call from him, but he might visit us at any time.
should opinion This class intro should be better than that.
  advice You should learn grammar to improve your language.
  expectation The plane should be landed now.
must obligation You must get up early, or you are going to be late.
  certainty He spent hours writing his new book. He must be tired.
ought to advice You ought to learn new skills.
  obligation we ought to master these lessons, or we are going to have bad marks.
Shall suggestion Shall we go out?
    Shall i stay with you?


this was meaning,types, rules, usage, and examples of modals in English. learn more about modal auxiliary in English.



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