Rules and Examples of Modal Verbs


Below we take you through some important rules for Modal Verbs as well as examples and situations where they are used. (For a more detailed explanation of Modal Verbs please click on the link in previous sentence.)

10 Examples of English Modal Verbs

These are the English modal verbs:

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


3 Rules when using Modal Verbs

Their rules differ from other verbs in a few key ways:

  1. Never add an “s” when converting them to third person singular.
  2. Always follow them with an infinitive verb without the “to.”
  3. Always reverse the order when asking a question – for example, instead of saying, “You can swim,” you would ask “Can you swim?”

5 situations when you can use Modal Verbs

Below are some of the situations in which you would use modal verbs.

  1. Probability

We can use modals when we want to express the likelihood of something happening in the past, present, or future. We might use modals to express probably, possibility, or certainty.

For example:

  • I didn’t study for the test, so I might fail.
  • She gets good grades, so she must study.
  • If I study next time, I should do
  1. Ability

We use modals “can” and “could” to express a person’s ability to do something.

For example:

  • I can read at an advanced level.
  • After the accident, he couldn’t walk for six months.
  • She can be very patient.
  1. Obligation and Advice

We use modals such as “can” or “should” when we want to express something a person is or is not obligated or advised to do.

For example:

  • You shouldn’t pet that dog when he growls.
  • Parents should raise their children to be polite.
  • You can skip the meeting if you like.
  1. Permission

We use modals such as “may,” “can,” or “could” when asking for, giving, or denying permission to do something.

For example:

  • You can’t say that in public!
  • I can stay out late.
  • May I taste your sandwich?
  1. Habits

We use “will” and “would” when describing something that is or was a habit or routine.

For example:

  • Every day after work, I would go to the store.
  • I can’t stop listening to that song.

Special Cases (past tense modals)

Some modal verbs can be tricky, and warrant special consideration in the sections that follow. These include “could have,” “would have,” “should have,” and “would.”