You should stop smoking




May I use your phone?

Can I borrow your keys?




I’ll pay for the drinks

Shall I lend you a hand?


The modal verbs are cancouldmaymightmustshallshouldwill and would.

The modals are used to do things like talking about ability, asking permission making requests, and so on.


We use can to ask for permission to do something:

Can I ask a question, please?
Can we go home now?

could is more formal and polite than can:

Could I ask a question please?
Could we go home now?

may is another more formal and polite way of asking for permission:

May I ask a question please?
May we go home now?

We use can to give permission:

You can go home now if you like.
You can borrow my pen if you like.

may is a more formal and polite way of giving permission:

You may go home now, if you like.

We use can to say that someone has permission to do something:

We can go out whenever we want.
Students can travel free.

may is a more formal and polite way of saying that someone has permission:

Students may travel free.

Instructions and requests:

We use could you and would you as polite ways of telling or asking someone to do something:

Could you take a message please?
Would you carry this for me please?
Could I have my bill please?

can and will are less polite:

Can you take a message please?
Will you carry this for me please?

Suggestions and advice:

We use should to make suggestions and give advice:

You should send an email.
We should go by train.

We use could to make suggestions:

We could meet at the weekend.
You could eat out tonight.

We use conditionals to give advice:

Dan will help you if you ask him.

Past tenses are more polite:

Dan would help you if you asked him.

Offers and invitations:

We use can I… and to make offers:

Can I help you?
Can I do that for you?

We can also use shall I …

Shall I help you with that?
Shall I call you on your mobile?

We sometime say I can … or I could … or I’ll (I will) … to make an offer:

I can do that for you if you like.
I can give you a lift to the station.
I’ll do that for you if you like.
I’ll give you a lift to the station.

We use would you like (to) … for invitations:

Would you like to come round tomorrow?
Would you like another drink?

We use you must or we must for a very polite invitation:

You must come round and see us.
We must meet again soon.


Ask Permission / Give Permission

Can + Subject + base form of the verb (informal)

  1. Can you lend me ten dollars?

Can + base form of the verb (informal)

  1. You can borrow my car.

Could + subject + base form of the verb (polite)

  1. Could I have your number?
  2. Could I talk to your supervisor please?

Make a suggestion – To make a suggestion use:

Could + base form of the verb (informal)

  1. You could take the tour of the castle tomorrow.


May, Might

Formal Permission / Formal Prohibition

may / may not + base form of the verb

  1. You may start your exam now.
  2. You may not wear sandals to work.

Polite Request

May + subject + base form of the verb

  1. May I help you?