A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb (which is also called a helping verb). You may also see them referred to as ‘modal auxiliaries’


Modals can express:

  • ability
  • intention
  • obligation
  • necessity
  • permission
  • possibility


Their job is to change or affect other verbs in a sentence. They differ from normal verbs as they don’t follow the same patterns.

examples of modals

  • A modal can be used to show ability
    example – He can sing.
  • A modal can be used to instruct or advise
    example – You should drink some water.
  • A modal can be used when something is necessary
    example – I need to tell you what I saw last night.
  • A modal can be used to ask for or give permission
    example – You may go to the toilet.
  • A modal can be used to show how likely something is to happen#
    example – I might apply for the London Marathon next year.


Here are some more examples of modal verbs in action with pictures.

modal verbs examples - ability
modal verbs examples - advise
modal verbs examples - obligation/necessity
modal verbs examples - permission
modal verbs examples - possibility/probability

modal verbs list

Modal verbs are used frequently in everyday speech, especially in casual conversations with friends and family. When you get the chance, try and revise the following list of modals and their uses.

  • can
    uses – ability, permission, possibility, request
  • could
    uses – ability, permission, possibility, request, suggestion
  • have to
    uses – advice, necessity, persuade
  • may
    uses – permission, possibility, probability, request
  • might
    uses – possibility, small probability
  • must
    uses – advice, necessity, obligation, 100% probability, prohibition
  • need
    uses – necessity, no obligation, obligation
  • ought to
    uses – advice, opinion, recommendation
  • shall
    uses – future, offer, question, suggestion
  • should
    uses – advice, deduction, prediction, recommendation
  • will
    uses – future, offer, prediction, promise
  • would
    uses – conditional, preference, request, question
modal verbs list
modal verbs list

common modal verbs and their function

Now you know what a modal verb is, click on the headings below to learn each one in more detail with meaning and picture examples.

shades of modality

Some modals are stronger than others. Take a look at the picture below and see how strong each one is.

modal verbs - shades of modality

top 10 tips for modal verbs

Now you know what a modal verb is and how to use them, I’ll give you my top 10 tips about modals.

modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rule
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules
modal verbs rules

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb. You can find out about auxiliary verbs here.