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  ENGLISH GRAMMAR for ESL learners  

MODAL VERBS in English

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb which express the mood of another verb.
They are used to express ideas such as: possibility, prediction, speculation, deduction and necessity.

Modal verbs have the following characteristics:

1) They do not have participle or infinitive forms
2) They do not take the ending -(e)s in the third-person singular.
3) They do not have a past form: He/she canted. He/she musted.
4) The negative is formed by the addition of not / n’t: He cannot/ He can’t. NOT He don’t can.
5) Questions are formed by inversion with the subject:  Can you? NOT Do you can?

Can  Ability:


Julie can swim.

Can I come with you? ('May' is also used.)

Can I help you?
Could Possibility:

Past ability:


That story could be true - who knows!

Charlie could swim when he was four years old.

Could I use your phone please?

Could you tell me the way to the station please?
May Possibility:

The President may come to our offices if the
meeting finishes before 5 pm.

May I borrow your dictionary?
Might Slight possibility :

Past form of 'may'
in reported speech:
We might win a prize but I doubt it.

The President said he might come.
Must Obligation:

Logical deduction:
Dogs must be kept on a lead.

You must be tired after your long journey.
Mustn't Prohibition: You mustn't tell Alex. It's a surprise!
Should Advice:

Logical deduction:
You should take an umbrella in case it rains.

I've revised so I should be ready for the test.
Ought to Advice:

Logical deduction:
You ought to write to your grandmother.

30 € ought to be enough for the taxi.
Shall Future tense auxiliary:

with ''I' and 'we':
I shall be in London on Monday (or I'll be ...).

Shall I order a taxi?
Shall we begin the meeting now?
Will Future tense auxiliary:

The ticket will cost about 50€.

Will you join us for coffee? Won't you come in?

Semi-modal verbs are composed of two or more separate words ending with ‘to’.
Have to / have got to - be able to - ought to  are examples of semi-modal verbs.

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