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English Grammar: How To Use Modal Verbs Correctly

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Modal verbs are a core part of the English language, including will, might, could, should, etc. As they operate differently to other verbs, they can be confusing for English learners. I’m going to talk about the structure of modal verbs and how to use them correctly.

1. Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs.

Modal verbs are always followed by a main verb, because they are auxiliary (helping) verbs.

I can swim.

Swim is the main verb.

I might go to the party.

Go is the main verb.

However, when we respond to a yes/no question, we can reply with just the modal verb.

Will you help me?

Yes, I will / No, I won’t

2. Don’t conjugate modal verbs.

Modal verbs stay the same for all subjects.

✅I should exercise more.

✅He must pay his bills.

❌He musts pay his bill.

✅It could rain.

❌It coulds rain.

3. Don’t use “to” after modal verbs.

I mentioned previously that modal verbs are followed by a main verb. However, the main verb in this case takes the bare infinitive form (without “to”).

✅I can play the piano.

❌I can to play the piano.

4. To use modal verbs in negative form, simply add “not”.

She would not follow the instructions.

We usually use the contracted form:

She wouldn’t follow the instructions.

NEVER use the auxiliary verbs “don’t/doesn’t” with a modal verb.

She doesn’t would follow the instructions.

5. To make a question with a modal verb, invert the subject and modal verb.

In an affirmative/positive statement, the subject is followed by the modal verb.

You will solve the problem.

In a question, invert the order, so that the modal verb comes first, followed by the subject.

Will you solve the problem?

NEVER use the auxiliary verbs “do / does” with a modal verb.

Do you will solve the problem? ❌

6. Don’t use two modal verbs together

Going back to my first point, remember that modal verbs are followed by a main verb, but not another modal verb.

❌I can must work late.

❌He might should reply.

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