Modal verbs

  • A modal verb is a 'helping' (auxiliary) verb.
  • Modal verbs support other verbs in a sentence to indicate possibility or necessity.
  • Modal verbs include must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may and might.

Recognising modal verbs

Modal verbs are easy to spot because there are so few of them. In addition to must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may and might, we can add ought to and have to.

If we are told that we 'must' do something, like complete homework, the modal verb 'must' indicates a high level of modality. There is no argument. The homework has to be done.

But if we are told that we 'may' do homework, the modal verb 'may' suggests a degree of choice. Modal verbs are useful for telling us about how necessary, or possible, something is.

The level of modality in different texts is interesting. Think about the difference between the following sentences:

Cinderella could go to the ball.

Cinderella can go the ball.

Cinderella will go to the ball.

Cinderella might feel happiest about the last one, as it sounds the most likely.

Watch the video. Which would you expect to contain more modal verbs: the uniform policy or the monthly newsletter?


Look out for modal verbs particularly where there are rules to be followed.

Notice how you use them in your own writing to express the likelihood of something happening.

Activity - modal verbs

Modal verbs quiz

Test your knowledge of modal verbs with this quick quiz.

Where next?

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