Modal verbs

Category: Education

Here’s a list of the modal verbs in English:

can could may might will
would must shall should ought to

Modals are different from normal verbs:

1: They don’t use an ‘s’ for the third person singular.
2: They make questions by inversion (‘she can go’ becomes ‘can she go?’).
3: They are followed directly by the infinitive of another verb (without ‘to’).


First, they can be used when we want to say how sure we are that something happened / is happening / will happen. We often call these ‘modals of deduction’ or ‘speculation’ or ‘certainty’ or ‘probability’.

For example:

  • It’s snowing, so it must be very cold outside.
  • I don’t know where John is. He could have missed the train.
  • This bill can’t be £200 for two cups of coffee!


We use ‘can’ and ‘could’ to talk about a skill or ability.

For example:

  • She can speak six languages.
  • My grandfather could play golf very well.
  • can’t drive.

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