Understanding Modals in English Grammar

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16 Questions

She __________ drive a car.


He __________ finish his work because he was sick.


It __________ rain today.


I __________ play tennis.


What would happen if we __________ control our dreams?


__________ is the most forceful of all the modals.


When do we use 'must' as a modal verb in English grammar?

To express a strong sense of duty, obligation, necessity, or inevitability.

What does 'might' indicate as a modal verb?

Possibility, potentiality, or likelihood without certainty.

In what context is 'may' commonly used as a modal verb?

To indicate permission, approval, or possibility.

How does 'could' differ from 'may' as a modal verb?

Could is a weaker version of may, suggesting less certainty or ability.

Explain the nuance of the modal 'must'.

Expresses strong necessity or obligation.

What does 'can' typically express as a modal verb in English?

Ability or permission.

How does 'might' differ from 'may' in terms of speculation?

Might is used when the possibility is less likely compared to may.

In what context is 'may' commonly used?

To express permission, possibility, or uncertainty.

When is 'could' typically used in sentences?

To indicate past ability or present/future possibility.

What is the primary meaning of the modal 'can'?

Expresses ability, capability, or permission.

Study Notes


Modals are auxiliary verbs used to express different meanings, such as necessity, ability, permission, or obligation. They often appear before the main verb in a sentence and change its meaning, functioning more like adverbs than regular verbs. In English, four common modals are "can", "could", "might," and "must".


The modal "can" is used to indicate possibility, potential, or capability. It shows that something may be done or is possible under certain conditions:

  • "I can play tennis." (indicating physical ability)
  • "She can't drive a car." (showing lack of ability)
  • "Can you help me with this task?" (asking permission)


Similar to "can," "could" also indicates ability, but it suggests less determination or a hypothetical situation:

  • "He couldn't finish his work because he was sick." (suggesting impossibility due to illness)
  • "Could you please pass the salt?" (polite request)
  • "What would happen if we could control our dreams?" (hypothesizing a scenario)


Unlike "can" and "could," which suggest concrete possibilities or abilities, "might" is used to convey uncertainty or possibility without definiteness:

  • "Might is right," expresses doubt about what is considered right; it does not imply that might actually means right.
  • "It might rain today," implies there is some likelihood of rain but not certainty.


"Must" is the most forceful of all the modals. It represents absolute necessity, obligation, or requirement:

  • "You must pay your taxes," emphasizes legal compulsion.
  • "We must leave now," conveys urgency.
  • When followed by a comma, "must" changes to a strong suggestion, not a command or requirement: "You must, commas, have a plan B."

In summary, modals provide a richer set of meanings than simple tense indicators, allowing us to express various shades of ability, obligation, permission, and potential within sentences. An awareness of these nuances can greatly enhance communication.

Learn about the different types of modals in English grammar, including 'can', 'could', 'might', and 'must', and how they are used to express necessity, ability, permission, or obligation. Explore examples of each modal in sentences to understand their nuances.

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