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Modals in English Grammar with examples

Models are used to express our moods, manners, and attitude. They help convey different meanings such as permission, possibility, ability, necessary, certainly, doubt, obligation, etc. Modals are never used along. A principle verb is either present or implied. They do not change according to the number or person of the subject. They have no infinitive, present, past, or past participle forms.

Some important model verbs – Can / Could / Might / Must / Shall / Should / Ought to / Will / Would. ect.

When to use modals

  • Probability/Impossibility
  • Ability/Inability
  • Asking for Permission
  • Requests, offers and invitations
  • Suggestions and obligations

Use of Models – Can / Could / Might / Must / Shall / Should / Will / Would


  • They can control their own budget’s (Ability / Possibility)
  • We can’t fix it. (Inability / Impossibility)
  • Can you help me (Asking for permission)
  • Can I sit here. (Request)


  • Could I borrow you pen? (Asking for permission)
  • We could try to solve it ourselves? (Suggestion)
  • He gave up his old job so he could work for us. (Ability in the past)


  • May I have another cup of tea? (Asking for permission)
  • China may become a major economic power. (Future Possibility)


They might give us a 20% discount. (Future Possibility)


  • We must say good-bye now. (Necessity/Obligation)
  • They mustn’t disrupt the work more than necessary. (Prohibition)


  • Would you mind if I brought a colleague with me? (Asking for permission)
  • Would you pass the salt please? (Request)
  • Would three o’clock suit you? “That’d be fine” (Making arrangement)


  1. He shall help your brother. (Certainly)
  2. They shall do it. (necessary)
  3. You shall not enter my room again. (threat)
  4. Shall we all go out together? (suggestion)


  1. I will help you. (willingness)
  2. We will be rewarded. (determination)
  3. We will fight against injustice. (determination)
  4. I will vacate your house within a month. (promise)


  • You should walk daily. (advice)
  • He should obey his teaches. (education)
  • She should see the doctor immediately. (suggestion)
  • He should have his own way. (determination)
  • He said he would do his best for us. willingness)
  • Would you please do it? (polite request)
  • Would you permit me to enter the class? (permission)


Can is used to express that something is possible, that someone has an ability. The negative is cannot or can’t.


  • She can play the flute, but she can’t sing.
  • I can’t drive a car.
  • Most birds can fly.
  • Aparna can speak English fluently.
  • Suddenly the light went off and we can’t see anything.

Could and couldn’t

Could is used to express an ability or opportunity in the, that someone had an ability. The negative is could not or couldn’t.

Could and couldn’t are normally used with verbs of seeing, noticing, understanding, etc.


  • She could climb trees when she was young.
  • We couldn’t swim as the swimming pool was closed.
  • We could see a tree on the hill.
  • I could smell the gas as I entered the kitchen.
  • He said that he could walk twenty km as a stretch.
  • She could play the piano when she was only seven.

Permission: Asking for permission

Can, could, may is used to ask for permission.


  • Can I borrow your pen?
  • Could I borrow your pen? (Could sound more polite than can)
  • May I borrow your pen? (May is rather formal)

Possibility and certainly

May, might, can, could.

May is used to showing that something is possible.

eg. The old car may break down anytime.

Might is used in the past tense, in present tense it implies something is possible.

eg. He said he might come tomorrow.

Might is used in the past tense, in present tense it implies something with lesser possibility than suggested by may.

eg. He might get there in time, but I’m not sure.

Can express general and occasional possibility.

eg. The strike can lead to further unrest.

Could is used to say you are not sure, as an alternative to mayor might.

eg. There could be a storm.

Giving and refusing permission

Can or may is used to give permission, but not could, except in reported speech. May is formal and is not often formal used in speech, it is often used in official signs and rules.

Can’t or may not is used in refusing permission, but not couldn’t or could not, except in reported speech.


  • you can wait here if you like.
  • I’m afraid you can’t park here.
  • The lift is for the patients’ and hospital staff’s use only. Visitors may use the stairs.


  1. What can I do for you?
  2. I may have the horse.
  3. you shall give alms to tour brothers.
  4. I will decide on this matter.

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