Advanced English Grammar



Modal Verbs

Learning modal verbs can be difficult for some learners of the English language.

Of course, it helps to know what they are, and how they are used, but it's just as important to know the phrase combinations you'll find them in at the advanced level of the English language.

As an introduction to modal verbs, please look through the following information. It will help you to get the most out of the modal verb pages on this site.

First off, there are a few things worthy to note concerning these types of verbs.

Typically, the following apply to all modals.

Modal Verbs - Main Points To Remember

A. Modals come first in a verb group.
B. All modals (except ought) are followed by the base form of the verb.
C. Ought is followed by a “to” infinitive.
D. Modals have only one form - they don't change from first, to second, to third person like other verbs.

A. Modals are always the first word in a verb group.

I should go visit them.
I think it will be rather boring.
Things could have been so different.

B. All modals except for ought are followed by the base form of a verb.

I should go visit them.
I think it will rain tomorrow.
Things could have been better.
Someone may have seen them.
They might be home tomorrow.
They may be late.
They should have known.
He can come by anytime.

C. Ought is always followed by a “to”-infinitive.

She ought to go out with Tom.
Sam ought to have taken his medicine.
You ought to be doing this, not me.

D. There is no “s” form for the third person singular of the present tense modal verbs. Also, there is no “-ing” or “-ed” forms.

She can't help him now.
I'm sure he can do it tomorrow.
She ought to have called him yesterday.

** Important Notes ** 

Modals usually do NOT indicate the time something happens. Shall and will, however, can often indicate a future event or situation.

I shall do whatever you suggest.
He will not be back for a few days.

Could is used as the past form of can to express ability.

When I was young, I could run really fast.

Would is used as the past form of will to express the future.

She remembered that she would be seeing him the next day.

Sometimes (especially when spoken) shall and will are shortened to “'ll” and would to “'d” and then added to a pronoun.

I’ll see you on Monday.
I thought she’d agree to go out with me.

If you're interested in more information about modal verbs, Wikipedia may be of some help.

You can go there by clicking on the previous link or you can find information by searching this site or by using the Modal Verbs menu bar at the left of this page.