Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are a certain kind of auxiliary verb. They indicate modality.
Examples of modality are:
  • likelihood
  • ability
  • permission
  • obligation

List of Modal Verbs

Modal Verb
Can I help you, madam?
Could you please give me some more bread?
May I ask what's wrong?
This might not be such a good idea.
I will talk to him soon.
Would you be so kind and do me a favour?
Shall I open the window?
You should go home now.

Modals that change their meaning

Some modal verbs change their meaning when you negate them. Take a look at the explanation below:
  • must You must see this movie! It's so good!
  • needn't You needn't see that movie. It's quite boring.
  • need We need to get some more milk for tomorrow morning.
  • mustn't You mustn't return home after midnight! It's too dangerous!
As you can see, "must" = "have to", while "mustn't" = "not allowed to"!
To negate "must", you have to say "needn't".


Here are some examples of how to use modal verbs. They are often used for polite conversation.
  • "Will you come over here right now!" (order, harsh request)
  • "Would you please come over for a second?" (polite request)
  • "Can you help me with the dishes?" (normal question)
  • "Could you please help me with the dishes?" (polite request)
  • "May I help you?" (polite offer)
  • "Let me help you!" (offer)
  • "This is a bad idea." (statement)
  • "This might not be such a good idea." (same meaning, much more polite)
  • "Do you want me to go now?" (direct question)
  • "Shall I go now?" (polite)
  • "Perhaps I should better go now." (very polite)
In our first exercise, match up the sentences that have the same meaning!
  • It's necessary for me to go to school today.
  • I don't have to go to school now.
  • I have to go to school today.
  • I am not allowed to go to school today.
  • I must go to school today.
  • I needn't go to school now.
  • I need to go to school today.
  • I mustn't go to school today.
In our third and final exercise you have to choose which of the options is the more polite one! Trust your intuition!
Which sentence is the most polite?
  1. When you are cold…
    • Shall I close the window?
    • I want to close the window!
  2. A waiter wants to collect your dishes…
    • Are you finished? May I take that away?
    • Give me your plate, please.
  3. When you are thirsty…
    • Could I please have a drink?
    • Give me a drink, please.
  4. When you need help carrying shopping bags…
    • Would you please help me carry these bags?
    • Will you help me carry the bags now?

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