Modal Auxiliary Verbs a Summary

 

We do not use modal auxiliaries to talk about situations that exist or have happened but to talk about the possibility, the necessity etc., of something happening

1. can

UseExamples
ability to do sth. in the present (substitute form: to be able to)I can speak Spanish.
permission to do sth. in the present (substitute form: to be allowed to)Can I go to the park?
requestCan you wait for me, please?
offerI can give you a lift.
suggestionCan we go to the beach on Saturday?
possibilityIt can get very cold in winter.

2. could

UseExamples
ability to do sth. in the past (substitute form: to be able to)I could speak Spanish.
permission to do sth. in the past (substitute form: to be allowed to)I could go to the park.
polite question *Could you tell me the time, please?
polite request *Could you wait for me, please?
polite offer *I could give you a lift.
polite suggestion *Could we go to the beach on Saturday?
possibility *It could get very hot in summer.

3. may

UseExamples
possibilityIt may snow at the weekend.
permission to do sth. in the present (substitute form: to be allowed to)May I go to the park?
polite suggestionMay I help you?

4. might

UseExamples
possibility (less possible than may) *It might snow at the weekend.
hesitant offer *Might I help you?

5. must

UseExamples
force, necessityI must go to the bank.
possibilityYou must be tired.
advice, recommendationYou must try the new restaurant.

6. must not/may not

UseExamples
prohibition (must is a little stronger)You mustn’t play football here.
You may not play football here.

7. need not

UseExamples
sth. is not necessaryI needn’t go to bank, I found some money in my coat.

8. ought to

simliar to shouldought to sounds a little less subjective

UseExamples
adviceYou ought to drive carefully in the rain.
obligationYou ought to leave a tip, he was a very good waiter.

9. shall

used instead of will in the 1st person

UseExamples
suggestionShall I call a taxi?

10. should

UseExamples
adviceYou should drive carefully in the rain.
obligationYou should leave a tip, he was a very good waiter.

11. will

UseExamples
wish, request, demand, order (less polite than would)Will you please sit down?
prediction, assumptionI think it will snow on Saturday.
promiseI will stop drinking.
spontaneous decisionCan somebody answer the door? – I will.
habitsHe’s strange, he‘ll sit for hours in the dark.

12. would

UseExamples
wish, request (more polite than will)Would you sit down, please?
habits in the pastSometimes he would sit for hours in the dark.

* These are no past forms, they refer to the future.