Modal Verbs List +Examples, Meanings and Uses

Modal Use Example

Will

Future

I will take the IELTS exam.

Would

Imagined Situation

Preference

Request

You would look good in blue.

I would like to go to the cinema.

Would you like some tea?

Should

Good idea

You should go to the Doctor.

Must

Obligation

Speculation

You must do your homework.

You must be crazy.

May/Might

Possibility

I may go to the shop.

Have to

Obligation

You have to do your homework.

Can

Ability

Permission

I can play the piano.

Can I go to the disco?

Could

Past Ability

Offer

I could run fast.

Could I help you?

Modal verbs examples and meaning

Modal verbs add more meaning to the main verb.

I might go to the cinema later. (adds possibility)

There is no need to conjugate the third person of a modal verb.

He might go to the cinema later. (not mights

Most common modal verbs

Will

We use will in the following situations:

Promise

I will do the washing later.

I will marry you.

Instant decision

I will help you.

I will buy some milk.

Certain prediction

We will use robots more in the future.

Liverpool will be champions this year.

As you can see, will is usually used for future situations.

Would

Imagined situation

I would go to Bali if I had the money.

I would have felt better if I hadn’t eaten all that chocolate.

Regular events in the past(used to)

I would play football for hours when I was a child.

I would go to the seaside every summer.

Reported speech future

Jane said she would meet her mother.

He said he would write the report.

Should

A good idea/advice

You should go to the doctor.

You should see that movie.

When something is not right

They should be here by now.

The screw should be here somewhere.

Uncertain prediction

I have done everything so it should work.

The train should arrive in 5 hours.

Must

Necessity/Obligation

You must practice speaking English.

You must clean your house.

Deduction/Logical Understanding/Speculation

You have been walking all day. You must be tired. 

It is very hot in here. You must be thirsty.

Have to

Obligation/Necessity

I have to wear glasses to read the newspaper.

I have to go to work every day.

May

Possibility

I may go to church this Sunday.

I may be late this evening.

Ask for permission(Polite)

May I use the bathroom?

May I have some milk?

Might

Possibility

I might go to church this Sunday.

I might be late this evening.

Can

Possibility/Allowed

We can eat ice cream after dinner.

We can have a dog next year.

Ability

I can speak four languages.

I can play the guitar.

Permission

Can I use the bathroom?

Can I go visit Thailand now?

Offers

Can I help you with your homework?

Can I do anything to help you?

Could

Possibility/Suggestion

We could go for a walk after dinner.

We could spend that money on a new dishwasher.

Ability in the past

I could play the piano when I was a child.

You could buy a lot with 1 pound when I was a child. 

Request 

Could you pass me the water?

Could I use your phone, please?

Negative modal verbs

Some negative modal verbs do not have a direct opposite meaning.

Mustn’t

Opposite of Must. It is necessary that you do not do that.

You mustn’t walk on the grass.

You mustn’t smoke in here.

Don’t have to

You do not need to, but you can if you want.

You don’t have to do your homework. (but you can if you want)

You don’t have to study grammar.(but it helps if you do)

Less common modal verbs

Had better

Good Idea/Advisable

I‘d better go home before it starts raining.

I had better not buy that coat.

Shall

Offer 

Shall I help you with your coat?

Shall I make you a cup of tea?

Suggestion

Shall we go?

Ought to

Advice

You ought to know better!

Deduction

$50 dollars ought to be enough.

Needn’t

Not necessary

You needn’t do your homework.