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Modal Verbs  
 
 
 
Table of Contents 
 
 
Introduction  ......................................................................... 2 
Characteristics of Modal Verbs ............................................. 2 
When to use the Modal Verbs ............................................... 3 
Expressing permission .......................................................... 3 
Expressing obligation ........................................................... 3 
Making offers ........................................................................ 5 
Making requests ................................................................... 6 
Expressing possibility/ probability ......................................... 7 
Asking about possibilities ..................................................... 7 
Infinitives  ............................................................................. 8 
 
 
 
Introduction 
 
Modal Verbs are can, could , may, might, must, will, would, shall , should, 
ought to.
  
They are known as modal auxiliary verbs because they ‘help’ another verb , i.e. 
they are always used with another verb in its base form. 
e.g.   can swim
 
Do you think I should go
 
 
Characteristics of Modal Verbs 
 
•   There is no -s in the third person singular
She can ski. He must be tired. It might rain. 
 
•  They are used to form questions and negatives: 
Shall we go for a  walk ? What should I do? 
He can’t  dance . You mustn’t  tell   lies

 
•  Modal auxiliary verbs don’t usually have past forms . Other expressions are 
used instead: 
had to  work   hard  at school. 
The prisoner was able to/managed to  escape by climbing onto the roof  of 
the  prison
(NOT *could escape) (= ability  / performance on one occasion) 
In some cases  could can be used with a past meaning
could swim when I was six. (=general ability) 
 
 
•  They have no infinitives and no –ing  forms. Other expressions are used 
instead. 
I’d love to be able to ski. I hate  having to get up early
 
•  They are followed by an infinitive   without -to. The exception is ought to
You must go. I’ll help you. You ought to see a  doctor
 
•  They can be used with  perfect infinitives to talk about the past. 
You should
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Modal verbs #1 Modal verbs #2 Modal verbs #3 Modal verbs #4 Modal verbs #5 Modal verbs #6 Modal verbs #7 Modal verbs #8
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