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Capýtulo 3:

 Modal verbs. Verbos modales en inglés

There are ten modal verbs in English.  These verbs have special functions outside normal verbs.

The ten modal verbs are:

  • May
  • Might
  • Can
  • Could
  • Will
  • Would
  • Shall
  • Should
  • Ought to*
  • Must

*“Ought to” is a very formal verb.  We tend to use shall and should in its place.

Modal verbs do not follow the pattern of normal verbs.  They have no past or future and they do not take ‘s’ for the third person singular:

                                             She can sing                                     She cans sing (X).  

When speaking in the past or future, we tend to use another verb with a similar meaning. For example: “She must leave” becomes “she had to leave” in the past tense and “she will have to leave” in the future.  

It is also possible to follow the modal with have in order to change the tense. Thus, “I should eat some lunch” becomes “I should have eaten some lunch”. Note that in this case, the following verb is in the past participle.

Can and could act as pair modals, thus a statement using can in the present becomes could in the past.

     I can’t find my wallet                     >             I couldn’t find my wallet.

All modals form their negative by adding not.

                 I shouldn’t eat chocolate                       I don’t should eat chocolat (X)

Also, all modals are followed by the base form of a verb without ‘to’.

                 I could dance                                                I could to dance. (X)

As seen before, modals are used in forming question tags.  They are also used in forming short answers to question tags.  In this case, the modal is always the same.

Have a look at these examples:

Examples:           You can’t pass me the salt, can you? Yes I can.

                               You wouldn’t let me down, would you? No I wouldn’t.

Each modal performs different functions in a sentence.  See below for a chart of those functions:


Language Tip

Modal verbs of possibility are often used when we wish to soften a statement.  For example, if you needed to tell your boss that the project was not going to be finished on time, then you might use the modal ‘may’ or ‘might’ as they have more ambiguity

For example: We may not be able to complete the project on time.

Instead of: We can’t finish the project on time.

This is due to a fondness for being indirect.  Often English speakers find comments that are too direct, rude or impolite


Activity 1.
Put the modal verb in its correct form, combined with the verb in brackets, to make deductions. The first one in done for you.

There is a lot of mail in the mailbox.

1.     They can’t have got up yet. 

2.     They______ (be) on holiday.

3.     They________ (have) a lot of magazine subscriptions.

He has a stain on his suit

4.     He______ (have) noticed it.

5.     He______ (have) had time to clean it.

6.     It_____ (have) just happened.


Activity 2.

Put the correct modal verb in the space in its positive or negative form.

1.     She had a lot of energy, she_______surf all day, dance all night.

2.     All noise________be kept to a minimum after 11pm.

3.     _______you like me to close the window? You look cold!

4.     I_______ take that bag for you, if you like.

5.     You really_________see the doctor regarding your ill health.

6.     ______I show you to your room?

7.     _____ you pass me the butter please?

8.     We_______ be able to finish the project on time.

9.     _______I take tomorrow off?  It’s my birthday.

10.  You really_______ touch that, you might hurt yourself.


Activity 3.
Use modal verbs to follow the instructions of these commands.

1.     Ask to take a holiday next month.

2.     Ask for the salt.

3.     Ask if it is possible for you to switch the light on.

4.     State that you possibly have time to help with the move tomorrow.

5.     State that it is possible that taxes will increase next year.

6.     State that it is possible you are able to pick up someone from the airport.

7.     State that there is a slight possibility that sales figures will increase next year.

8.     State that you are certain sales figures will increase next year.

9.     State that you are able to fix the computer.

10.  State that you are unable to fix the DVD player.

11.  State that you left your old job to be able to work here.

12.  Ask for a glass of wine.

13.  Request that someone make you a cup of tea.

14.  Offer to call Mr Bartlett now.

15.  Invite someone out to dinner.

16.  Suggest that you meet at 9pm.

17.  Advise someone to see a dentist.

18.  State it is necessary that you leave now.

19.  State that you are prohibited from speaking, unless spoken to.

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