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

Use Examples
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?
request Can you wait for me, please?
offer I can give you a lift.
suggestion Can we go to the beach on Saturday?
possibility It can get very cold in winter.

2. could

Use Examples
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

Use Examples
possibility It 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 suggestion May I help you?

4. might

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

5. must

Use Examples
force, necessity I must go to the bank.
possibility You must be tired.
advice, recommendation You must try the new restaurant.

6. must not/may not

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

7. need not

Use Examples
sth. is not necessary I needn’t go to bank, I found some money in my coat.

8. ought to

simliar to shouldought to sounds a little less subjective

Use Examples
advice You ought to drive carefully in the rain.
obligation You ought to leave a tip, he was a very good waiter.

9. shall

used instead of will in the 1st person

Use Examples
suggestion Shall I call a taxi?

10. should

Use Examples
advice You should drive carefully in the rain.
obligation You should leave a tip, he was a very good waiter.

11. will

Use Examples
wish, request, demand, order (less polite than would) Will you please sit down?
prediction, assumption I think it will snow on Saturday.
promise I will stop drinking.
spontaneous decision Can somebody answer the door? – I will.
habits He’s strange, he‘ll sit for hours in the dark.

12. would

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

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