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Lesson 6.5

Modal Verbs

Los verbos modales
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Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that, unlike the auxiliary verbs “be”, “do” y “have”, cannot function as principal verbs.

Modal verbs express modality, ability, possibility, necessity, probability, obligation or other conditions. They are auxiliary verbs used for forming the future and conditional.

As complementary verbs, modal verbs cannot function without other verbs. The principal verb is always found after the modal verb and in the base form. Modal verbs are not conjugated and have no tenses.

The modal verbs are:

 can
 could
 may
 might
 will
 shall
 should
 ought to
 must/have to
 would

Uses

Can

Meaning: to be able to; indicates ability or possibility

Examples:

 I can speak five languages.
 We can work late tonight if you need us.
 Bill and Tom can’t help you.
 The restaurant can be expensive if you drink a lot of wine.
 It can be dangerous to drive if you are tired.

In interrogative sentences, we use “can” to ask permission (informally) or to ask about possibilities.

Examples:

 Can I have a glass of water?
 Can you help me?
 Can they work late tonight?

Could

Meaning: past tense of “can”, indicates ability or possibility in the past

Examples:

 Joe could speak Spanish when he was young.
 I couldn’t sleep last night.
 Could you play an instrument when you were a child?

Could” is also used for possibilities in the future.

Examples:

 You could pass the test if you studied.
 I think it could rain later.

As with “can”, in interrogative sentences “could” is used to ask permission or to ask about possibilities, but in a more formal sense.

Examples:

 Could you pass the salt please?
 Could you help me?
 Could I be wrong?

Note:Could” is used in conditional sentences. See the lesson on conditional sentences for more information.

Note:Could” is used in conditional sentences. See the lesson on conditional sentences for more information.

May

Meaning: used to indicate possibilities in the future

Examples:

 I would bring an umbrella, it may rain later.
 It may be better to finish this now, rather than wait until tomorrow.

May” is also used to give permission or instructions.

Examples:

 You may leave if you like.
 You may use your cell phones now.

In interrogative sentences, “may” is the most polite way to ask permission (as opposed to “can” or “could”).

Examples:

 May I have a glass of water?
 May I leave now?

Might

Meaning: synonym of “may”, indicates possibilities in the present or future

Examples:

 I would bring an umbrella, it might rain later.
 It might be better to finish this now, rather than wait until tomorrow.

“Might” can also be used like “may” to ask permission, but this is much more common in British English than in American English.

Will

Meaning: used to express willingness or consent

As we will see in later lessons, “will” is used to form the future tense.

As we will see in later lessons, “will” is used to form the future tense.

Examples:

 I will help you.
 We will learn English.

Will” is used in interrogative sentence to ask for information, a favor or opinion.

Examples:

 Will they find a cure for cancer?
 Will you help me move?
 Will he go to Paris by car or train?

Shall

Meaning: used, like “will”, to express the future

The use of “shall” is much more common in British English and is generally considered more polite.

Examples:

 Chris shall be happy to see you.
 I’ll take the 3 o’clock train.

Note: The short forms of “will” y “shall” are the same. Therefore, “I’ll” in the above example can mean either “I will” or “I shall”.

We also use “shall” for offers or to make suggestions or to ask about opinions or preferences.

Examples:

 Shall we meet at 10pm?
 Shall we go to the movies or a museum?

Should

Meaning: indicates a recommendation or obligation or reflects an opinion about what is right or correct

Examples:

 I should call my parents more often.
 You shouldn’t work so hard.
 They should practice more if they want to win the championship.

Should” is used in interrogative sentences to ask if there is an obligation or to ask for a recommendation.

Examples:

 Should we leave a tip?
 Should I have the steak or the chicken?
 Where should they meet you?

Ought to

Meaning: synonym of “should” although it is less common.

Examples:

 She ought to quit smoking.
 I ought to call my parents more often.
 They ought to work less.

Must

Must” indicates an obligation, prohibition (when in the negative) or necessity; it is a synonym of “have to” in affirmative sentences.

Examples:

 You must [have to] read this book, it’s fantastic.
 You must [have to] brush your teeth two times a day.
 We must [have to] leave now or we will be late.
 You must not drink and drive.
 When must we meet you?

We also use “must” for probability or assumptions.

Examples:

 John’s not here. He must be sick because he never misses class.
 It must be difficult to learn a new language as an adult.

Must” can also be used in rhetorical questions.

Examples:

 Must you always be late?
 Must she talk so much?

Would

Meaning: past tense of “will”; indicates preference, desire, or intention

Examples:

 She would like to go to New York someday.
 I would like a beer and my wife would like a glass of wine please.
 Would you like some coffee?
 Would you help me please?
 When would you like to go to the movies?

Note:Would” is used to form the conditional in English. See the lesson on conditional sentences for more information on the use of “would”.

Note:Would” is used to form the conditional in English. See the lesson on conditional sentences for more information on the use of “would”.

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