Modals : Introduction

Sometimes, it becomes critical to express our thought only with the help of Principal Verbs, Main Verbs or Primary Helping Verbs. Because the thought might consist of such expression which represents our mood or idea or attitude or possibility. In such cases, we use another kind of auxiliary verb along with the main verb of the sentence. This kind of auxiliary verb is called Modal Auxiliary Verb or, simply, modal.

Frequently used modals are —

shall, will, should, would, should have, ought to, ought to have, can, could, may, might, must, must have, need, dare, used to, etc.

Usages of Modals

Can and Could

We use Can and Could to express five different types of expressions. I. Ability, II. Possibility, III. Permission, IV. Offer, and V. Request. Let’s go through a few examples.

  • Can you speak French? (ability)
  • My brother can type as fast as I. (ability)
  • I could not blame her. (ability)
  • The manager could arrive anytime now. (possibility)
  • He can join us. (possibility)
  • The women could be his mother. (possibility)
  • Can I use your car? (permission)
  • Excuse me, could I talk to you? (permission)
  • You can’t park here. (permission)
  • Can I help you with those luggage? (offer)
  • Can I drop you at the airport? (offer)
  • Could you lend me ₹100? (request)
  • Could you lower the music, please? (request)
  • Can you fetch me the book? (request)

May and Might

May and Might are used in six cases. I. Permission, II. Wish, III. Purpose, IV. Possibility (may), V. Less Possibility (might), VI. May/Might + Have. Let’s check a few examples.

  • May I help you? (permission)
  • Might I ask a question? (permission)
  • May your ceremony be a success! (wish)
  • May you live long! (wish)
  • I study hard so that I may pass. (purpose)
  • He sends money so that you may live well. (purpose)
  • She visited so that she might see me. (purpose)
  • I may join you to night. (possibility)
  • It may rain. (possibility)
  • It might rain. (less possibility)
  • She might be reading now. (less possibility)
  • She may have left. (past, probably)
  • The rain might have stopped by now. (past, probably)
  • He might have missed the train. (past, probably)


Should is used in five different cases. I. Duty, II. Purpose, III. Future in the past, IV. Conditional, V. Should + Have. Let’s go through a few examples.

  • You should study hard. (duty)
  • Promises should be kept. (duty)
  • Study hard lest you should fail. (purpose)
  • I told her that she should study hard. (future in the past)
  • Should you study hard you will succeed. (conditional)
  • You should have studied before the exam. (should + have)
  • She should have stood by her words. (should + have; )


We use Would in nine different cases. I. Future / Intention, II. Possibility, III. Request, IV. Opinion, V. Wish, VI. Irregular past habit, VII. Likely, VIII. Reason, and IX. Advise / Conditional. Let’s check an example from each of the cases.

  • He said that he would join. (Future / Intention)
  • He would join us. (possibility)
  • Would you join us? (request)
  • You would join us. (opinion)
  • I would rather join you. (wish)
  • He would visit the temple. (irregular past habit)
  • That would be his brother by him. (likely)
  • Why would I go there? (reason)
  • If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it. (advise / conditional)

Used to

Used to is used in three cases. I. Habitual Past / Present, II. Discontinued Action, III. Adjectival Usage. Let’s check a few examples.

  • I used to swim in the Ganga. (habitual past / present)
  • I used to go to market on horseback. (habitual past / present)
  • I used to sing for children. (discontinued action)
  • I am used to facing my parents. (adjectival use)
  • They are used to diving in sea. (adjectival use)
  • I will be used to speaking in French. (adjectival use)

Ought to

Ought to is used in three cases. I. Moral Obligation, II. Probability, III. Ought to + Have. Let’s check a few examples.

  • We ought to serve our parents. (moral obligation)
  • You ought not to make her cry. (moral obligation)
  • She ought to be home by 6 pm. (probability)
  • We ought to reach there in afternoon. (probability)
  • They oughtn’t to fight back. (probability)
  • He ought to have served his parents. (ought to + have)
  • He oughtn’t to have smoked in the train. (ought to + have)


Must is used in seven different cases. I. Necessity / Obligation, II. Order: Must not, III. Strong Possibility, IV. Determination, V. Conclusion / Inference, VI. Must + Have, and, VII. To have + Infinitive. Let’s check all the aforementioned cases with examples.

  • You must pay now. (necessity)
  • We must follow the rules. (obligation)
  • They must not leave home. (order)
  • You must not sell that. (order)
  • He must be here by now. (strong possibility)
  • It must rain tonight. (strong possibility)
  • We must help the poor. (determination)
  • I must clear the examination this year. (determination)
  • He is handsome, he must be talented. (conclusion / inference)
  • He has an iPhone, he must be rich. (conclusion / inference)
  • You must have helped me. (must + have)
  • They must have gone for good. (must + have)
  • You have to be serious. (to have + infinitive)


Need is used in three ways as a modal. I. Need, II. Need Not, III. Need Not + Have. Let’s go through a few examples.

  • We need to work hard. (need)
  • Need I send him there? (need)
  • We need not work hard. (need not)
  • You need not come here. (need not)
  • I need not have sent the letter. (need not + have)
  • They need not have cut the glass. (need not + have)


Dare is used either as I. Dare or as II. Dare Not. Let’s check.

  • I dare you to ask her to dance. (dare)
  • Dare you tell her the news? (dare)
  • Do you dare to tell you the news? (dare)
  • I dare not go outside on cold nights. (dare not)
  • They dare not ask me the question. (dare not)

Modal—Chart (M—Chart)