What is a Modal Verb? English Modal Verbs List

Define modal verb: A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb that expresses possibility or necessity.

What is a Modal Verb?

A modal verb is a helping (auxiliary) verb that expresses ability, possibility, permission, or obligation. The modal verb must be used in a verb phrase.

A verb phrase is more than one verb used in together to express an action. Modal verbs are always paired with at least one other verb.

Modal verbs express possibility or necessity (and variations thereof).

List of Modal English Verbs

What is modal What are the English modal verbs? Here are nine most frequently used modal verb in Modern English.

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would

Example of Modal Verbs in Use:

  • Shane can swim.
    • “Can” is the modal verb in the verb phrase “can swim.”
  • Suzy could sing if she tried.
    • “Could” is the modal verb in the verb phrase “could sing.”
  • You must attend our wedding.
    • “Must” is a modal verb; “must attend” is the verb phrase.

Modal Verbs are Helping Verbs

Modal verbs list Since modal verbs are helping verbs, they are always a part of a verb phrase. They do not stand alone as individual verbs.

Modal helping verbs are still helping verbs, so they must be used in a verb phrase (helping verb plus main verb) in order to be grammatically correct.

Example of Modal Verb in Use:

  • Joe should try.
    • “Should” is the modal verb in the verb phrase “should try.”
    • “Try” is actually the main verb, stating what action Joe should take.

Modal verbs can be made negative, as well. The negative word “not” is added into the verb phrase between the modal verb and the main verb.

To make a negative verb phrase with a modal verb:

  • modal verb + not + main verb

Examples of modal verb in use (negative):

  • Sandy will not go to the theater.
    • “will not go” is the verb phrase
    • “will” is the modal verb
    • “go” is the main verb
    • “not” is placed between the modal verb and the main verb to make the negative verb phrase
  • Jake must not make a mistake.
    • “must not make” is the verb phrase
    • “must” is the modal verb
    • “make” is the main verb
    • “not” is placed between the modal verb and the main verb to make the negative verb phrase

Modal Verbs Express: What is the Purpose of Modal Verbs?

What is modal in grammar Again, the modal verbs are,

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would

These modal verbs are used to express different meanings of possibility and intention. They enhance the meanings of main verbs, and certain verbs are used to express each meaning.

Modal Verbs Expressing Possibility

modal verbs English page Certain modal verbs express possibility. They express something that may or may not happen.

The modal verbs used to express possibility include: can, could, might, may.

Examples:

  • He can go.
  • He could go.
  • He might go.
  • He may go.

Modal Verbs Expressing Intention

modal auxiliary verbs Certain modal verbs express intention. They express something that the speaker plans to do but has not yet completed.

The modal verbs used to express intention include: should, would, might, will, shall.

Examples:

  • She should share.
  • She would share if you let him.
  • She might share.
  • I will share.
  • I shall share.

Modal Verbs Expressing Obligation

englishpage modals Certain modal verbs express obligation. They express something that the speaker plans needs to do.

The modal verbs used to express obligation include: will, must, shall.

Examples:

  • You will eat.
  • You must eat.
  • You shall eat.

Modal Verbs Expressing Necessity

definition modal verbs Certain modal verbs express necessity. They express something that the speaker plans needs to do.

The modal verbs used to express necessity include: must, shall.

Examples:

  • They must answer.
  • They shall answer.

Modal Verbs Do Not Change Forms

English grammar modal auxiliary Since modal verbs are not the main verb in a sentence, they are not conjugated or inflected to show grammatical changes in the subject. Put differently, they do not change forms.

Furthermore, modal verbs do not have an infinitive form to conjugate.

Modal verbs with different subjects:

  • I can/could/may/might/must/shall/should/will/would
  • You can/could/may/might/must/shall/should/will/would decide.
  • He/She/It can/could/may/might/must/shall/should/will/would decide.
  • We can/could/may/might/must/shall/should/will/would decide.
  • You can/could/may/might/must/shall/should/will/would decide.
  • They can/could/may/might/must/shall/should/will/would decide.

As you can see, the same verbs work with subjects in the first, second, and third persons.

Summary: What are Modal Verbs?

Define modal verb: the definition of modal verb is a specific kind of helping verb used to express possibility.

In summary, a modal verb:

  • is a helping verb
  • must be used with a main verb
  • is always a part of a verb phrase
  • can be made negative
  • does not change forms for different subjects