What are modal verbs?

Modal verbs

Modals are words used in English to talk about probability, ability, permission, obligation, and advice. Sometimes you hear them called “modal verbs,” which is a little confusing. Modals can’t stand alone as the verb of a sentence. They always accompany the main verb. That’s why modals are what’s known as auxiliary verbs.

Modal verbs_goprofe.jpg

The main modal verbs are the following:

Can Could
May Might
Shall Should
Will Would

Modals are always followed by another verb in the infinitive. Examples:

  • You can go to the festival with us.
  • I thought we would have flying cars by now!
  • The president might sing the national anthem before the baseball game.
  • I didn’t know you could dance so well!


Modal verbs are made negative by putting the word not after the modal verb, but before the main verb. Sometimes the word not can be contracted. Examples:

  • They were so full, they could not eat another bite.
  • I can’t believe what you’re telling me!
  • The children shouldn’t sit so close to the TV.
  • Here’s a song that you may not have heard before.


When modal verbs are used in questions, the subject of the question is placed directly after the modal verb. Examples:

  • Will you call me when you get there?
  • May I please have a drink of water?
  • Would you love me if I had more hair?
  • Can Anna help Olaf learn English?


As we mentioned, modal verbs are not the same as the main verbs, nor do they behave the same way. A main verb is conjugated to end in “s” when using third person singular, as in:

  • The man walks across the road.

However, modal verbs are not conjugated. Therefore, you would say:

  • The man should walk across the road.

and not:

  • The man shoulds walk across the road.


Learn more about modal verbs:
Probability (coming soon)
Ability (coming soon)
Permission (coming soon)
Obligation (coming soon)
Advice (coming soon)

Want even more information about modal verbs? If you are in Spain, find a private English teacher on goprofe.com.


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