Modal Verbs

The great German poet Goethe once said, “He, who knows no foreign language, doesn’t know his own once”.

Today English language is the language of the world. English is not only the national or official language of some thirty states that represent different cultures, but it is also the major international language of communication in such areas as science, technology, business and mass entertainment. It is also the major language of diplomacy. No doubt that we must know English very well. “MModal verbs” is a category of English grammar that represents human courtesy communicating with others. From my point of view, knowledge of this grammar is essential for everybody, because we must know how to express a polite request, willingness, determination and etc. So achieving this grammar you’ll be much more professional in English and cultured speaking with other people.



1.Can has two main uses:

a) to express permission or possibility (=may):
You can go now.
You could come later yesterday.

b) to express ability orr capacity (=know how to):
I can swim very well.
Can you speak French?
He could cover the distance in an hour.

Can has two tense forms: can for the present tense and could for the past tense.
Tense Affirmative Negative Interrogative

Past I can go

I could go I can not (c

can’t) go

I could not (couldn’t) go Can I go?

Could I go?

Could is not only the past of can; it can be used to talk about the present and the future; it may be used to introduce polite requests:

You could be right. Could I se you tomorrow?
Could you tell me the time, please?

Could is also used in conditional sentences:

He could get the job if he wanted to

Can and could are both used with the perfect infinitive (to have + past participle). Can is only used in questions and negative sentences:

Where can she have gone?
She can’t have gone to school – it’s Sunday.

Could with the perfect infinitive is also used to talk about an unrealized past possibility: something that was possible but didn’t happen.

You were stupid too jump down the cliff – you could have broken your legs.

2.Can expressing ability has an equivalent to be able which may be used not only to talk about future but also to build up other tense forms:
Present Past Future
I can go I could go –
I am able to go I was able to go I shall be able to go

Shall be able is used talking about future ability.

He’ll be able to speak English in another few months.
If he has a good rest, he will be able to

o work again.


May expresses

1) permission
2) probability and possibility
3) wish
4) purpose in subordinate clauses and after wish, fear, be afraid, etc.:

You may be free. May I take the map?
It may be true. You may stay here.
May your dreams come true! I’ll write him so that he may know when to expect us.
I’m afraid the news may be true.

May has two tense forms: may for the present tense and might for the past tense.

Might is used as the past tense form of the verb may expressing permission only in subordinate clauses.

He said he might go out.

Might used in the principal clause expresses possibility – present or future. Might may introduce polite requests:

You might be more attentive.

How long might the game last?

Might I have a correction?
Tense Affirmative Negative Interrogative

Past I may go

.I might go I may not (mayn’t) go

.I might not (mightn’t) go May I go?

.might I go?

2.If the modal verb may expresses permission, its equivalents are: to be allowed, to be permitted:
Present Past Future
I may go
I am allowed to go –
I was allowed to go –
I shall be allowed to go

If may expresses permission, may not (mayn’t) or must not are used to refuse, or to forbid. Must not is more emphatic:

You may not (must not) feed the animals at the Zoo.

May we cross the street now? – No, you must no

ot. The red light is on.

If may expresses possibility, the negative form is may not (mayn’t), mightn’t:

It may not rain in the evening.

He said it might not rain in the evening.

May is not used in questions about possibility. The idea is expressed in another way:

Is it likely to rain, do you think? (Not: May it rain?)
Do you think she is with Ruth? (Not: May she be.?)

Can is not used in the same way as may and might. Can is used to talk about a more general kind of possibility, not about the chance that something actually will happen or is happening:

One can travel to Moscow by air or by railway.

I may fly to Moscow next week.

Both may and might + perfect infinitive can be used to talk about the possibility that a past event happened.

Alice hasn’t returned from town. She may have missed the train.

What do you think that noise was? It might have been the wind.

Might + perfect infinitive can be used to say that a past event was possible, but didn’t happen:

You were stupid to try climbing up there. You might have killed yourself.


Must expresses:

a)an immediate or future obligation or necessity.

b)strong probability.

Soldiers must obey orders.

We must be responsible for what we

e do.

Must you go soon? – Yes, I must.

Must has only one tense form; it can be used for the past tense in subordinate clauses after a past verb in the principal clause. In the principal clauses past tense of the verb must is expressed by it’s equivalents (had to; was/were to)

He must go
He has (got) to go

He had (got) to go

He’ll have to go
He must go Prohibition(mustn’t)

He mustn’t go
He isn’t to go

He wasn’t to go

He mustn’t go
He isn’t to go No obligation(needn’t)

He needn’t go
He hasn’t got to go
He doesn’t need to go
He doesn’t have to go

He hadn’t got to go
He didn’t have to go
He didn’t need to go

He won’t have to go
He won’t need to go
He needn’t go

Present tense questions and negative sentences
One occasion(without do)
Must we pay for it?
Need we pay for it?

Have we got to pay for it?

We needn’t pay for it.
We haven’t got to pay for it. Habitually(with do)
Do we have to pay for it?
Do we need to pay for it?

We don’t need to pay for it.
We don’t have to pay for it

NOTE! The difference in meaning:

He must do it. (Jis privalo tai padaryti)

He must have done it. (Jis turbūt tai padarė)
Didn‘t need to = wasn’t necessary, so probably not done.

I didn’t need to change my suit (didn’t have to.). So I went in the clothes I had on.

Needn’t have + past participle = wasn’t necessary, but done nevertheless.

I needn’t have changed my suit, but I did. I see now that it wasn’t necessary.

If must expresses necessity, its equivalents are: to have to, to be to, to be obliged, to be compelled, to be forced:

I must do it. I am obliged to do it.

I have to do it. I am compelled to do it.

I am to do it. I am forced to do it.


Ought expresses
1) duty, obligation, something advisable, desirable.

2) Probability. Its meaning is very similar to that of should. Ought has only one tense form. It is followed by a to-infinitive.

NOTE! Ought and should are used to talk about the present and future, not the past.

Questions and negative are not built up with do.
The negative forms are: I ought not. I oughtn’t.
The interrogative form is: Ought I?

You ought to do your duty well.

We ought to start on our way at once.

You ought to read more fiction.


1. Shall used with the 2nd and 3rd person has a modal meaning. It expresses a command, promise or threat.

You shall do it alone. (Command)

He shall receive our advice. (Promise)

You shall be punished for it. (Threat)

2. Will used with the first person (I, we) has a modal meaning and expresses willingness or a promise, determination, an intention:

I will go with you. (I shall and I want to go with you.)

We won’t keep you long. (We promise that we shall not keep you long.)

3. Will and the infinitive are also used, with stress on will, to suggest that something must always be expected, that there can be no change:

Boys will be boys. (We can not expect them to be different.)
4. Should used with all persons has a modal meaning and expresses advice, recommendation:

You should do it like that.

If I were you, I should act differently.

I shouldn’t worry if I were you.

5. Should used in subordinate clauses may express purpose:

I gave him the article that he should translate it.

6. Should is often used in subordinate clauses after in case or if. It makes an event sound less probable.

I’ll get some cakes in case my friends should come. (They might come)

7. Should is used after how, why and occasionally after other interrogative words:

How should I know?

Why should he think that?

8. Should is used to express probability or expectation:

They should be at home now, I think.

9. Would (will) used for all persons may indicate that something happens from time to time, is a habitual action:

Sometimes these boys would play with us.

My uncle would go fishing every weekend.

The machine will stop at times.

10. Would (will) in the negative is used to indicate refusal:

He wouldn’t (won’t) help us.

This window wouldn’t open.

11. Would (will) is used in questions expressing a polite request and is often an equivalent of please:

Would you open the window? (Open the window, please.)

Will you come in? (Come in, please.)


Dare may be a modal verb and principal verb.(The past indefinite – dared). As a modal verb dare means to have the courage, to be impudent enough to. As a modal verb it is mainly used in interrogative, negative and conditional sentences.

I daren’t talk to him.

How dare he say anything like this?

Dare he tell them the truth?

You aren’t well, I dare to say.

Dare may be used also as a principal verb :
a) be brave enough to:

The boy didn’t dare (to) ask his parents’ permission to stay out late.

I wonder how he dares (to) to say such things.

b) face, take the risk of:

He dares his life.

This man is very brave and will dare anything.

c) challenge (to dare to):

I dare you to say that again.

He dared me to jump over that stream.


Need, like dare, may be a modal verb and a principal verb. As a modal verb need means be obliged; be necessary. As a modal verb need is used only in the negative and interrogative. As a modal verb it has no ending –s in the third person singular, it doesn’t take do in the negative and interrogative, and it is followed by the infinitive without to. As a modal verb it has no past tense:

Need she write an answer? She needn’t write an answer, need she?

Need you go yet? – No, I needn’t. (Yes, I must.)

Needn’t, followed by a perfect infinitive without to, indicates that something may have occurred or been done in the past, it was unnecessary:

You needn’t have spoken about this.

NOTE! The difference in meaning:

They didn’t need to go. (Whether they did go or did not go, it wasn’t necessary for them to go.)

They needn’t have gone. (They have gone. It wasn’t necessary for them to go.)


subordinate clause – šalutinis sakinys
principal clause – pagrindinis sakinys
polite requests – malonus prašymas
equivalent – ekvivalentas, atitikmuo
emphatic – pabrėžtas; pabrėžiantis; ryškus
an immediate – neatidėliojamas, neatidėliotinas, nedelsiamas, skubus
obligation – į(si)pareigojimas
necessity – būtinybė, būtinas reikalas/dalykas; būtinumas, reikalingumas
prohibition – (už)draudimas
one occasion – atvejis, kartas
habitually – iš papratimo; nuolat
willingness – pasiruošimas, pasiryžimas
determination – ryžtingumas; pasiryžimas
an intention – ketinimas, noras; tikslas, intencija
expectation – laukimas, tikėjimasis
impudent – akiplėšiškas

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