Modal Verbs | Modal Auxiliary Verbs and their Uses

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Hope, you are good today.

We are going to discuss Modal Auxiliary Verbs and their uses.

Let me start by telling you that there are mainly 13 modal auxiliary verbs -

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

 *Modal is the adjective of mode.

Use of Modal Auxiliary Verbs

   A modal verb is used in a sentence as an helping verb, to express someone's mood (ability, possibility, to take and give permissions etc).


Where do we use a modal auxiliary verb in a sentence?

Learn how to use of a modal verb in a sentence of simple present tense from the structure given below- 

In affirmative sentences - 

Subject + modal verb + main verb + object.

=> I shall play cricket. 

In negative sentences - 

Subject + modal verb + not + main verb + object.

=> I shall not play hockey. 

In interrogative sentences - 

(WH word) + Modal verb + subject + main verb + object?

=> Will
you buy a car?
=> When will you buy a car?   Etc.


Alright .

Now discuss the uses of modal verbs one by one.

Start with 'Can'

 1. Use of Can

Can is used to express-

Use #1 :
One’s power or ability to do something:

  • I can do this. 
  • They can win. 
  • You can not overcome. 
  • Ram can not drive. 

Use #2 : 
Can is also used
(a) In a yes-no question to take permission and 

To Take Permission To Reply
Can I go to the shop? You Can go to the shop.
Can I buy some chocolates? You Can buy some chocolates.
Can I see your notebook? You Can see my notebook.

Use #3
Can is used to express request:

E.g. -
  • Can you please check my copy?
  • Can I please go out?

Use #4 : 
To express possibility :

E.g. -
  • The left party can win this election. 
  • He can revenge the murder of his brother.

Read more: Tense and time.
Read more: Different forms of a verb.

 2. Use of Could

Use #1 :
It is the past form of can. It is used to express ability, capacity,  power in the past.

  • I could .
  • We could do something.
  • They could.
  • You could not take the wicket. 
  • Joy could not sleep. etc.

Use #2 :
Used in an interrogative sentence to express polite request:

  • Could you stop her, please?
  • Could you please give me your notebook?
  • Could you allow me to enter the room?
  • Could I announce your name for the chief guest?
  • Could I pay the invoice?

Use #3 :
To express possibility in the present unreal situation:

  • If I were a millionaire, I could gift you a helicopter on your birthday.
  • If I were a bird I could fly everywhere. 
  • If you gave him money, he could inform you.
  • If she studied hard, she could pass the exam.
  • If got another chance, you could prove yourself.

Use #4 :
To express the past form of 'can' in indirect speech: 


Direct - She said, "You can be expelled."
Indirect - She said that I could be expelled. 

Direct - John said, "Can I borrow your notebook?"
Indirect - John asked if he could borrow my notebook. 

 3. Use of Will 

Use #1 :

Will is to do something in future.
'Will', as an auxiliary verb, can be used after every subject except I and we

  • He will sing. 
  • Rabi will send him.
  • They will not do that. 
  • You will not get any chance. 

Use #2 :
To express request

  • Will you give me a pen?
  • Will you help me?
  • Will you call in a doctor? 
  • Will you do it for me?

Use #3 :
To express order with a question tag:

  • Keep it right there, will you?
  • Shut your mouth up, won't you?
  • Don't shout, will you?
  • Don't waste your time, will you?

Use #4 :
To express something inevitable or unavoidable

  • He will fail.
  • The time will pass.
  • Man will die. 
  • The master will be master. 
  • The slave will be slave.

Read more: Different forms of a verb.

 4. Use of Would: 

Use #1 :
As the past form of 'Will' :

Would can be used with any subject, including I and we.
  • would like to do that. 
  • We would do. 
  • They would dance. 
  • You would eat. 
  • He would watch. 
  • Raju would not sleep. 

Use #2 :
To express past habit:

  • She would sit by me and confabulate for hours. 
  • She would brush her hair until it fell in lustrous auburn wave.
  • I would run throughout the meadow all day long. 
  • I would impatiently wait for the next morning.
You can use these sort of sentence to express your nostalgic vibe.

Use #3 :
To express past willingness: 

  • I would like to visit my grandparents.
  • I would like to invite you on my birthday. 
  • She would be glad if you had come.
  • My brother would love to drive a high-end car.

Use #4 :
Used as Conditional Modal Verb :

  • They would kill him if the police didn't arrive at the time.
  • I would miss the train if you didn't give me a lift. Thanks.
  • You would be sleeping on the sidewalk if this party didn't win the election.

Use #5 :
To express possibility/probability:

E.g. -
  • You would be a better person.
  • She would have a bright future.
  • We would overcome every obstacle.
  • Mr. Biden would win the election.

Use #6 :
To express desire or wish :

  • Would that I were a millionaire. 
  • Would that I were a horse.
  • I wish I would be the president.
  • I wish you would prosper.
  • I would like to have a Mercedes. 
  • I would like to buy a Mobla pen.

Use #7 :
Used in an interrogative sentence to express Polite Request :

In this case there is a 'please' in the sentence, or,
The sentence starts with "Would you like to..."

  • Would you please be quiet?
  • Would you please open your book?
  • Would you please allow me to enter the hall?
  • Would you like to have rice and curry in lunch?
  • Would you like to buy these sun-glasses? 
  • Would you like to have a cup of tea?

Use #8 :
To express preference or choice between two things or ideas:

  • I would as soon flee as bear his boring jokes.
  • He would as soon die as play this video game.
  • She would rather die than marry you.
  • I would rather stay home than go out as a deadly pandemic broke out.

Read more: Tense and time.

 5. Use of Shall

Shall is used mainly after I and we.

Use #1 :
It is used to express something in future but used mainly with I and we.
  • I shall go. 
  • we shall read.

Use #2 :
Used in an interrogative sentence to take permission

  • Shall I keep your book for two days more?
  • Shall we go for a picnic?
  • Shall I sit here?
  • Shall we go inside the hall?

Use #3 :
In question tags of imperative sentences :

It is used in question tags of imperative sentences that start with Let us' or Let's.

  • Let's move, shall we?
  • Let's dance, shall we?
  • Let us discuss the incident, shall we?
  • Let us live together, shall we?



You learnt that 'shall' used only with I and we.
But you can use 'shall' with other subjects in certain cases, as -

(I) Determination
Meanings are also given -

Use Meaning
He shall apologize. He must apologise.
You shall do it at once. you must do it at once.
She shall be faithful to you. she must be faithful to you.
You shall abide by your boss. You must abide by your boss.

(II) Order/Command:
Meanings are also given -

Use Meaning
You shall stay inside. I order you to stay inside.
You shall not disturb me any more. I order you not to disturb me any more.
You shall listen to me. I order you to listen to me.
You shall not forget your promise. I order you not to forget your promise.

(III) Warning:
Meanings are given in the right column. 

Use Meaning
You shall be fired if you don't take it seriously. I warn you to take it seriously, otherwise you will be punished.
You shall be punished if you neglect it. I warn you not to neglect it, otherwise you will be punished.
You shall be ostracised in case you don't follow the rules. I warn you to follow the rules, otherwise you will be ostracised.
The customers shall boycott you if you can't change your autocratic behaviour. I warn you to change your autocratic behaviour, otherwise customers will boycott you.

(IV) Promise:
Meanings are given in the right column -

Use Meaning
You shall get a promotion. I promise you will get a promotion.
She shall be rewarded. I promise you that she will be rewarded.
He shall be nominated. I promise you that he will be nominated.
Adriana shall get a chance to prove herself I promise you that Adriana will get a chance to prove herself.

 6. Use of Should

Use #1
Used in an indirect speech as the past form of 'shall' 


Direct - She said to me, "I shall read this novel."
Indirect - She told me that she should read that novel.

Direct - I said to her, "When shall we meet again?"
Indirect - I asked her when we should meet again.

Use #2 :
Used in a conditional sentence to express imagination

  • If I should die, take care of the children.
  • If she should call me, we'll go.
  • If it should rain, I shall stay home. 
  • If he should came here, I'll be happy.

You can also use 'should' in a conditional sentence to express less possibility
  • If she should call, don't pick it up. (There is no possibility of her call, but still she calls...
  • If Mitchell should come, ask him about his mother. (There is no possibility Mitchell's arrival, but still he comes...)

Use #3 :
Used in a sense of 'Ought to' or 'had better':

  • She should pay the money. 
  • You should have a working skill.
  • I should inform them about the incident.
  • He should not disturb her. 

Use #4 :
To express possibility:

  • They should call for a strike tomorrow.
  • She should arrive today.
  • I think it should rain.
  • He should win the first prize.

Use #5 :
Used in a formal/official notice:

  • Every student should attend the meeting.
  • The students should answer the questions. 

Use #6 :
Used in an unreal situation to express polite advice: 
  • If I were you, I should not get angry at that situation.
  • If she were you, she should not insult me.
  • If he were you, he should never leave her alone.

 7. Use of May

Use #1 :
To express possibility

  • It may rain today.
  • My uncle may visit us tomorrow. 
  • She may not agree.
  • The answer may not be correct.

Use #2 :

May is used -

(a) In a yes-no question to take or give permission, and

(b) And to give reply to the same yes-no question. 


To Take PermissionTo Give Reply
May I go to the shop?Yes, you may go. /
No, you may not.
May I buy some chocolates?Yes, you may buy some. /
No you may not.
May I see your notebook?Yes, you may. /
No, you may not.
May I come in? Yes you may.
May I go out sir?No, you may not.
May she go with me?
Yes, she may go with you.
May I take this book?No you may not. 

Use #3 :
To express possibility

E.g. -
  • My brother may purchase a motorbike.
  • She may rebuke me.
  • He may not arrive tomorrow. 
  • It may rain today. 
  • It may be a rumour.

Rule #4 :
Used in an optative sentence to express wish, blessing etc.

  • May you live long. (Blessing)
  • May she get a job. (Pray)
  • May you succeed. (Wish)
  • May he have loving wife. (Wish)

Use #4 :
Used in a subordinate clause having a "so that" or "in order that" before it.

  • We do physical exercise so that we may remain fit.
  • We eat so that we may live.
  • She works hard in order that she may succeed.
  • She goes abroad in order that she may have a better future there.

 8. Use of Might 

Use #1 :
Used as the past form of may in indirect speech while changing the narration.

Direct - Mr. Gomes said, "She may come today."
Indirect - Mr Gomes said that She might go that day.

Direct - She said, "Meena may not call him."
Indirect - Meena might not call him. 

Use #2 :
To express polite request

Meanings are given in the brackets. 
  • You might be attentive. (Please be attentive)
  • You might have a cup of coffee. (Please have a cup of coffee.)
  • Might I ask you something? 
  • Might we get an extra class for this topic? 

Use #3 :
To express less possibility:

  • It might rain today.
  • My uncle might visit us tomorrow. 
  • She might not agree.
  • The answer might not be correct.

'Might' is used to express less possibility:
 'May' is used to express more possibility.   And,
'Can' is used to express more possibility than 'may'.

See how less possibility and more possibility are expressed : 

Less PossibilityMore Possibility than 'might'MorecPossibility
than 'may'
It might rain today. It may rain today. It can rain today.
My uncle might visit us tomorrow. My uncle may visit us tomorrow.  It can rain today.
She might not agree.She may not agree. It can rain today.

 9. Use of Must 

Use #1 :
To express certainty:

  • I must watch the match.
  • I must call you.
  • We must arrive before 6 p.m.
  • He must not complete it in time.

Use #2 :
To express determination

  • We must help her.
  • She must overcome all the difficulties.
  • You must not lose this time.
  • You must not forget your promise. 

Use #3 :
Must is used to express moral obligation.

  • We must follow moral principles.
  • You must do as directed. 
  • A student must properly utilize his time.
  • Candidates must not carry any electronic device inside the examination hall.
  • An elected member must not possess any office of profit.

Use #4 :
To express inevitability or unavoidability :

  • To achieve a successful career, one must work hard.
  • You must not have a promotion unless you change your lazy behaviour.
  • You must face challenges in every stage of life.
  • One must not smoke to live a healthy life.

 10. Use of Used to 

You might be wondering how a 'used to' is placed in different sentences,


Have a look at the examples below -
Assertive –

Affirmative Negative
I used to dance. We used not to gamble.
I used not to smoke.
I did not use to swim.

Interrogative –

Affirmative Negative
Used I to swim? Used not we to grow crops?
Used I to smoke? Used not I to smoke?

And now see some use of 'used to' -

Use #1 :
It is used to express regular job in the past. 
  • I used to carry a water-bottle. 
  • She used to share her tiffin with me.
  • My mother used to walk a mile to fetch water.
  • They used not to help her, neither did they allow other to help her.

Use #2 :
To express the sense of “habituated to” / “be accustomed to” :

E.g. - 

Use Meaning
I am used to smoking. I am accustomed to smoking.
She is not used to living in an urban area. She is not accustomed to living in an urban area.
He is not used to walking long distances. He is not habituated to walking long distances.
We got used to the cold air of Shimla. We became accustomed to the cold air of Shimla.
My mother is not used to the modern electronic devices. My mother is not habituated to the modern electronic devices.
She is used to the background music. She is habituated to the background music.
The baby is not used to a clamorous uproar. The baby is not accustomed to a clamorous uproar.

*The negative form of used to is- did not use to.

I didn't use to go to school everyday. 

Read more: Tense and time.

 11. Use of Ought to 

Again you may find the use ‘ought to’ in different sentences a bit confusing.

Get a clear idea by just going through it.

In Assertive Sentences –
Affirmative Negative
We ought to help her. We ought not to leave her alone.
He ought to give your book back. He ought not to keep your book any more.

In Interrogative Sentences –

Affirmative Negative
Ought we to leave her alone? Ought not we to help her?
Do we ought to leave her alone? Don’t we ought to help her?

Now see some of the uses of 'ought to':

Use #1 :
Ought to means 'should'
We can use ought to instead of should.

  • He ought to come here.
  • I ought to help my mother.
  • We ought to support our family.
  • Bella ought not to misunderstand you.

Use #2 :
To express moral obligation:

E.g. – 
  • One ought to respect his fellow citizens.
  • We ought to serve our people.
  • You ought to be punctual.
  • We ought to help one another.
  • You ought not to waste your time.
  • You ought not to ill-treat your employees.

Use #3 :
To give advice

E.g. –
  • You ought to respect your elders.
  • You ought to listen to your parents.
  • You ought to work hard to succeed.
  • You ought not to disrespect your teachers.

Use #4 :
To express a strong possibility :

E.g. –
  • The blue team ought to defeat our team.
  • She ought to be the champion.
  • They ought to blame me for all these.
  • He ought to rebuke us.

 12. Use of Dare 

Use #1 :
means to have the courage to do something. As a modal auxiliary verb, dare is usually used in a interrogative and negative sentences.

  • How dare you do that?
  • I daren't talk to my teacher.
  • Daren't you talk to me like that?

Dare is also used as a main verb / action verb and it is followed by a to -infinitive.

E.g. -
  • Don’t dare to tell him the truth. 
  • I dare to talk to my teachers.

Read more: Tense and time.

 13. Use of Need

Need means require

Use #1 :
  • I need go to the shop to buy some snacks. 
  • You need not worry about that. 

Need is also used as main verb, but this time it is followed by a to infinitive.

  • He needs to talk to his father. 
  • I don’t need to be so worried for that. 

Read more: Different forms of a verb.

Thank You...

Use of Modal Auxiliary Verbs > can, could, will, would, shall, should, may, might, must, used to, ought, dare, need.

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