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Modal Verbs, Examples, Exercises with Answers

Applying the Nuance of English Language: A Guide on Modal Verbs Use

Modal verbs are at the heart of English language proficiency. They act as helping verbs that alter the main verb’s meaning to reflect necessity, possibility, some other nuance of English language. These include words like ‘could’, ‘should’, ‘will’, ‘must’, etc. They play an incredibly crucial role to:
– Convey different levels of formality,
– Indicate the speaker’s attitude and
– Express hypothetical scenarios or anticipation of future events.

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Modal Verbs, Examples, Exercises with Answers

In using them effectively, we can add depth, dimension, and sophistication to our language expressions. Imagine saying, “You go now.” versus “You must go now.” The modal verb ‘must’ packs a punch of urgency and importance that would otherwise be missing.

Who Can Benefit from Learning Modal Verbs?

Our guide would be beneficial for a broad spectrum of language learners.
– ESL students aiming for fluency and native-like proficiency can gain significantly.
– Native English speakers looking to refine and enrich their language use and understanding would also find this guide valuable.
– Furthermore, professionals in fields like writing, teaching, communications, and anyone who relies heavily on English for work can gain from mastering the subtle art of using modal verbs.

Breaking Down Modal Verbs

Let’s dive a little deeper to get a good grip on this invaluable feature of the English language.

What are Modal Verbs?

Modal verbs are peculiar type of verbs that lend a different shade of meaning to the main verb they stand with. They have the unique ability to modify the mood of a verb, essentially altering the way a situation or action is perceived. Some commonly used modal verbs include ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘shall’, ‘should’, ‘will’, ‘would’, ‘must’ and ‘ought to’. These add nuances like possibility, permission, ability, obligation and more to the sentences. For example, observe the difference in meaning between “He swims” (a simple statement of fact) versus “He can swim” (indicating his ability to swim).

Categories of Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are typically divided into two categories:

– “Pure modals” encompass ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘shall’, ‘should’, ‘will’, ‘would’ and ‘must’. These are primarily used to express levels of certainty, ability, necessity, and permission.

– “Semi-modals” include phrases like ‘need to’, ‘have to’, ‘ought to’, etc. These express an added level of obligation or expectation.

Understanding these categories and their distinct characteristics simplifies the process of determining the correct use in various contexts.

Deep Dive into Specific Modal Verbs

Let’s dig deeper into the role and functions of individual modal verbs and how they add layers of meaning to our sentences.

Modal verbs function only as auxiliaries. Therefore, we call them modal auxiliaries. Here are the modal verbs we might need when we speak English :

  1. can
  2. could
  3. may
  4. might
  5. shall
  6. should
  7. will
  8. would
  9. must
  10. ought to
The modal verbs above have different meaning depending on the situation in which they are used.

Modal Verbs Meaning and Functions

Must – Expressing Necessity

The modal verb ‘must’, is used to portray obligation or necessity. When you say, “I must finish this project by tomorrow”, it communicates a strong commitment towards completion of an action.

  1. It expresses the necessity or  obligation. Example : People must work to eat.
  2. In negative sentences, it expresses prohibition. Example : You must not smoke in this room.
  3. Must + have + verb III expresses an obvious conclusion in the past. Example : The door is locked. He must have gone out.

More Examples

– Example: “You must wear a mask in public areas.”
– Here, the use of ‘must’ signifies the importance of wearing a mask.

Can and Could – Discussing Ability or Possibility


This is another modal verb that you might use quite often. It references the ability or possibility of something happening. For instance, “You can swim in this river”.

  1. It means be able to.
  2. It refers to present and future.
  3. It expresses ability. Example : Sue can speak Spanish and Russian.
  4. It expresses possibility. Example : It can rain in October here.
  5. It can be used to request and grant permission. Example : Can I come in?
  6. can + have + Verb III refers to possibility in the past. Example : They can have planned the terror.
More Examples
  •  Example: “I can play the guitar.”
  • The verb ‘can’ is used here to indicate capability.


  • Example: Can you lend me your lighter, please?
  • The verb ‘can’ is used here to express a request.


We usually use ‘could’ to express ability, possibility, request, and grant permission. See the details below.

  1. This modal means ‘be able to’.
  2. It refers to present, past and future.
  3. We can also use it to express ability in the past. Example : When I was 5, I could play in the rain for hours.
  4. It expresses possibility in the past but It did not happen. Example :   She was lucky when she fell off the bicycle.  She could have hurt herself.
  5. It can be used to request and grant more formal and polite permission. Example : Could I borrow your pencil for a moment?
  6. Could + have + Verb III refers to ability that was not used. Example : He could have joined us, but he didn’t get our invitation in time.


Will/ Would – Talking about the Future or Hypothetical Situations

‘Will’ and ‘Would’ are modal verbs typically used to discuss future actions or hypothetical situations. When you say, “I will call you tomorrow”, you’re expressing a future action. ‘Would’, on the other hand, is perfect for hypothetical situations, like “I would travel the world if I had the funds.”

– Example: “She would have joined the party had she not been busy.”
– ‘Would’ is used to express a potential action that didn’t happen due to a particular reason.

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  1.  We use ‘will’ to express future action. Example : I will do it tomorrow.
  2. This modal also  expresses agreements, mild promises, or willingness. Example : I will do whatever you want.
  3. It is used to express polite request. Example : Will you carry the bag for me?


  1.  It expresses an offer or invitation. Example : Would you like a cup of coffee? or Would you like to come to birthday party tomorrow?
  2. This modal expresses what we want politely. Example : I’d like a room, please.
  3. We can also express the result of condition in a contrary-to-fact situation. (Conditional Sentences Type II) Example : If I were rich, I would buy you a house. It means I’m not rich, so I will not buy you a house.
  4. It expresses the result of condition in a contrary-to-fact situation in the past (Conditional Sentences Type III). Example : If she had driven the car more slowly, she wouldn’t have had an accident. It means she didn’t drive the car slowly so she had an accident.
  5. We express our polite request using this modal. Example : Would you be kind to type a letter for me?
  6. It expresses a habitual action in the past. Example : When I was young, I would play game online for hours.

Shall/ Should/Ought to – Expressing Advice or Suggestions

‘Shall’ and ‘Should’ are modals primarily used to express advice, suggestions, or some form of obligation. “You should drink more water” is a simple sentence suggesting practical advice.

– Example: “We shall meet at 5 pm for the movie.”
– ‘Shall’ is used here to confirm future plans.


  1. It is used to request for agreement or an offer to do something for someone. Example : Shall I answer the phone for you?
  2. It can replace will to express future action, but only for subject I and we. Example : I shall leave for Copenhagen tomorrow.


  1. It is used to express an advice. Example : The film was great. You should go and see it.
  2. should + have + verb III is used to express the right thing to do in the past. Example : He didn’t pass the exam because he didn’t study well. He should have studied well.
  3. It is used to express less certainty. Example : If you should see Christ, can you tell him to call me? or should you see Christ, can you tell him to call me?

Ought to

  1. It is used to express an advice. Example : The film was great. You ought to go and see it.
  2. should + have + verb III is used to express the right thing to do in the past. Example : He didn’t pass the exam because he didn’t study well. He ought to have studied well.

May/ Might – Expressing Possibility or Request

Both ‘may’ and ‘might express possibility or request with slightly different meaning, different nuance.


  1. It expresses possibility. Example : It may rain, according to the weather forecast.
  2. It can be used to request and grant more formal and polite permission. Example : May I sit here?
  3. May + have + Verb III refers to speculation about the possibility that something happened in the indefinite past. Example : The lecturer’s car is not here. He may have left.


  1. We can express lighter  possibility than that expressed by ‘may’. Example : It might snow in October; we can never be sure.
  2. It can be used to request and grant very very formal and very polite permission. Example : Might I be excused early?
  3. It replaces may when used in the past form. Example : The forecast says it may rain tomorrow. The forecast said it might rain tomorrow.
  4. Might + have + verb III is used to express past possibility or speculation. Example : We didn’t speak to him. He might have got angry.

Bear in mind, understanding these modal verbs is vital to mastering English nuances and building your fluency. Practice using these modal verbs in your everyday communication to get a hang of their usage.

Modal Verbs Versus Similar Verbs

Mastering English language nuances often starts with understanding the difference between modal and regular verbs.

The Difference Between Modal Verbs and Regular Verbs

Modal verbs, which include words like can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must, and ought to, express the likelihood, necessity, ability, permission, or obligation of an action. Unlike regular verbs, they do not change their form based on the subject and do not have infinitives, present participles or past forms. For example, we say “You must go” and not “You musts go”, a distinction missing in regular verb usage. Understanding this differentiation prepares students for the deeper level of English language complexity.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While mastering modal verbs, common errors arise when one does not recognize the notional shift these modifiers can imply. For instance, saying “I could eat” subtly implies an ability but doesn’t necessarily mean the speaker will actually eat. Avoiding such misunderstandings can significantly improve English fluency. Furthermore, do not mix up verb forms, as in using “could” when “would” is more appropriate—accuracy in modal verb use is crucial.

Practical Applications of Modal Verbs

While understanding modal verbs may initially feel overwhelming, seeing them in context greatly simplifies their use. Here’s how they find a place in our daily speech, work environment, and written communication.

Using Modal Verbs in Daily Conversations

Modal verbs are like the seasoning in a meal that enhances flavor, bringing subtlety and depth to our conversations. Examples include:

– “Could you pass me the salt?” expresses a polite request.
– “I must leave by 10 pm” signifies an obligation.
– “She might arrive by noon” suggests a possibility.

These verbs help us express our feelings, doubts, or hesitations more accurately, ensuring our communication is clearer and more productive.

Modal Verbs in Professional Setting

In a professional environment, the right use of modal verbs conveys respect and politeness. They can also indicate levels of certainty or obligation. For instance:

– “We will be having a team meeting tomorrow” is definitive.
– “Could you complete this task by 5 pm?” is a courteous way to delegate work.
– “You should consider revising the budget” expresses advice.

Strategic use of these verbs can help build a positive relationship with colleagues, clients, and superiors.

How Modal Verbs Bring Nuance to Written English

In written English, modal verbs add a layer of sophistication and subtlety. They can highlight the tone of the text, offering possibility, probability, necessity, or even doubt. For instance, “The movie must be good if it’s sold out” contains an assumption, and “The employees could take a day off if they wished to” projects an option. These nuances can enrich your writing, carving out a more engaging experience for the reader.

Tips for Mastering Modal Verbs

In order to truly master the use of modal verbs, we need to incorporate a few techniques into our study routine. Focusing on their usage in various contexts and practicing them regularly can drastically improve our understanding.

Practice Exercises for Better Understanding

One of the most practical ways to get a grip on modal verbs is through exercises tailored specifically to their use.
– Fill in the blank exercises: These can aid in understanding which modal verb fits best in different sentences.
– Dialogue practice: Applying modal verbs in written or spoken dialogues will expose you to a variety of real-world applications.
– Multiple choice tests: These are great for testing your comprehension and accuracy.

Resources for Learning

In addition to exercises, there are a plethora of resources available for learning modal verbs.
– Grammar books: Old-school but incredibly effective, grammar books provide comprehensive explanations.
– Online language learning platforms: Websites like Duolingo, Babbel, or Khan Academy offer interactive lessons tailored to modal verbs.
– Tutoring: Personalized lessons from an English tutor could offer valuable feedback and clarification.

Mastering these tips and utilizing the resources will help you embrace the nuance of the English language with greater fluency.

As we wrap up this guide on mastering the use of modal verbs, let’s take a quick recap and reiterate some key points to remember.

Modal verbs are auxiliary or helping verbs that express varying degrees of certainty, ability, permission, and obligation. Some common examples are ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘shall’, ‘should’, ‘will’, ‘would’, and ‘must’. Their proper use can add depth, emotional tone, and an elevated degree of formality to your everyday communication. Understanding the thin line between their various shades of meaning is crucial to achieve English fluency.

Encouragement to Continue Practicing

However, do keep in mind that mastering the English language, and more particularly its modal verbs, won’t happen overnight. It requires dedicated practice and routine reading. Don’t be disheartened by initial mistakes; they are stepping stones to your language proficiency. Surround yourself with English–be it through books, music, movies, or conversations–and enjoy the learning process. Remember, fluency isn’t just about grammar and vocabulary. It’s also about understanding the nuances and weaving them flawlessly into your spoken and written English. Carry on with your practice and witness the transformation in your language skills.

Additional Resources

Embarking on the journey of mastering English and its subtle intricacies can be thrilling and at the same time, challenging. Let’s ensure you have all underway to drive you forward. Here are some additional resources you can delve into for a deeper understanding of modal verbs and English grammar as a whole.

Recommended Books on English Grammar

To supplement your learning, dive into these comprehensive books which offer an in-depth exploration of the English language and its grammar:

– “Understanding and Using English Grammar” by Betty Schrampfer Azar: A book that offers clear examples and exercises.
– “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan: An authoritative guide deciphering the complexities of English grammar.

Online Tutorials for Further Study

The digital age provides a vast range of accessible online resources that can enhance your English fluency. Websites like “British Council” and “BBC Learning English” provide tutorials specifically focused on modal verbs use. Furthermore, YouTube channels like “English Lessons with Alex” and “GrammarDawg” offer interactive and engaging video lessons.

Empower your English language journey with these resources, keep practicing and, in time, you’ll master the artful nuance of modal verbs. Remember, the road to mastery is a journey, enjoy the ride!

Modal Verbs Exercises

Exercise I

Choose the correct word in parentheses to complete the sentence.

  1. My three-year-old sister (can, may, could) count from 1 to 10.
  2. (Can, Will, Should) I borrow your pen for a moment?
  3. When I was five, I (can, could, may) run faster than my elder sister.
  4. If you want to be slim, you (may, will, should) eat less and do sports more.
  5. A: (Shall, Will, Must) I open the window? It’s too hot here. B: Yes, please.
  6. Is there anything I (will, shall, can) do for you?
  7. A: (May, Will, Should) I smoke here? B: Yes, it’s a smoking area.
  8. We (may, must, can) wash our hands before we have meals.
  9. What (would, will, can) you like to drink?
  10. A: What’s your suggestion? B: I think you (ought, should, must) to study harder.

Exercise II

Answer the following questions. Use modal verbs.

  1. Mention three things we can do to stop the virus from spreading.
  2. What must we do to make our parents happy?
  3. Write five things you may do if you are lost in the jungles.
  4. Can you give three suggestions to people who will go to the USA?
  5. Say five things you will do before you get married?

Exercise III

Complete the blanks with can, may, might, could, will, must, have to, should, ought

  1. Safety Shoes ____________ be worn in this area.
  2. You _______________ wear safety glasses to protect your eyes.
  3. When you are hungry, you _____________ eat.
  4. When I was five, I ______________ not ride a bicycle.
  5. I ____________ not drive a car when I was a child, but now I ____________.
  6. Your life  _________ be easy if you are smart.
  7. Driving too fast __________________  cause  accidents.
  8. ___________ you hear someone crying last night?
  9. ____________  sit here?
  10. ____________  you lend me some money?
  11. You ____________ stop your car because the light is red.
  12. If you ignore that fork lift truck sign, the fork lift _________ hit you.
  13. That mandatory Face Shield Sign means that we _________ wear a face shield.
  14. “No Smoking” means that you ____________ not smoke in that area.
  15. The doctor told me to eat properly. I __________ not eat junk food if I want to be slim.
  16. You ___________ wear PPE in the workplace.
  17. The toilet is so dirty. We ____________ clean it.
  18. What ____________ I do if I want to be happy? Give me some advice.
  19. ____________ I smoke here? No, there’s a no-smoking sign behind you.
  20. Every citizen  ____________  obey the city rules and regulations.



Exercise I

  1. My three-year-old sister can count from 1 to 10.
  2. Can I borrow your pen for a moment?
  3. When I was five, I could run faster than my elder sister.
  4. If you want to be slim, you should eat less and do sports more.
  5. A: Shall I open the window? It’s too hot here. B: Yes, please.
  6. Is there anything I can do for you?
  7. A: May I smoke here? B: Yes, it’s a smoking area.
  8. We must wash our hands before we have meals.
  9. What would you like to drink?
  10. A: What’s your suggestion? B: I think you ought to study harder.

Exercise II

Different answers are possible.

  1. a. We can stay home. b. We can avoid contact with other people. c. We must always wear a mask whenever we go out.
  2. a. We must study hard. b. We must follow their advice. c. We must help  them do the house work.
  3. a. I may look for other people b. I may call the police. c. I may call my parents. d. I may call my friends. e. I may look for food when I am hungry.
  4. a. You should get the  correct visa. b. You should have enough money to live on. c. You should be able to speak English d. You ought to visit Golden Bridge.
  5. a. I will save enough money first. b. I will buy a house. c. I will buy a car. d. I will make sure if my groom/bride loves me. e. I will plan the best honeymoon ever.

Exercise III

  1. Must
  2. Must
  3. Have to
  4. Could
  5. Could, can
  6. Will
  7. Can/may
  8. Could
  9. Can/May
  10. Could/Can
  11. Must
  12. May
  13. Must
  14. Must
  15. Should
  16. Must
  17. Have to
  18. Should
  19. Can/May
  20. Must

Download the exercises here.






12 responses to “Applying the Nuance of English Language: A Guide on Modal Verbs Use”

  1. […] the top of the mountain, the signal was very weak. But, finally, I was able to make a phone call. Anda bisa membaca tentang modals, termasuk can, di sini. Penjelasannya dalam Bahasa Inggris […]

  2. […] John said: “My father may come.”             John said that his father might come. Silahkan Anda baca modal verbs (termasuk may and might) di sini untuk melengkapi pemahaman […]

  3. […] Jadi Anda bisa bilang:”Somebody may have robbed him.”  Pola kalimat tersebut: Subject + modal + have + verb III (past participle). Kunjungi modal verbs di […]

  4. […] pengetahuan Anda tentang  modals + have + Kata Kerja III disini agar Anda lebih berkomunikasi dalam bahasa […]

  5. […] penggunaan should dan Modal Verbs lainnya di sini! Untuk informasi lebih lengkap tentang Simple Past Tense di […]

  6. […] kita akan membuat kalimat dengan Modal Verbs,kita hanya tinggal mengingat pola dibawah ini :Subyek + modal verb + Kata Kerja I (infinitive tanpa […]

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