Modal Verbs: The English Modals

The English modals include; would shall/ can/ should must ought to / could may / might will

Modals are not full verbs like sleep or eat. They allow us to express a thought which is not a fact - very often our manner to an event. For instance:


Shawn can play the piano.

Sorry, I can't make your party on Sunday. I'm in New York.

A condition
I would if I could.

You ought to try Nurofen. It's far better than ordinary aspirin.


Yo, you must be Shawn. I recognised your motorbike.

Minor differences in meaning
Occasionally there is very little difference in meaning between a modal use and a nonmodal use:

I speak Chinese . Vm going to get the 9 o'clock flight.
I can speak Chinese. I'll get the 9 o'clock flight.

Occasionally two modals can seem alike in meaning:
I may be behind schedule. You must come.
I might be behind schedule. You ought to come.

Major differences in meaning
The differences between We must be here by 12; We'll have to be here by 12; We have
to be here by 12 arc small, but the following difference is serious:

We mustn't arrive by 12.
We don't have to arrive by 12.

Notice also the relationship between the following pairs:
1. You must take the medicine before eating.
You mustn't take them before going to bed.

2. That must be his wife. She's getting out of his car.
That can't be his wife. He's young enough to be his daughter.