What Is a Modal Verb?

The words "modal verbs" at the top. Then below are the following words set in white circles against a pink background: may, should, will, must, can, would, might.

These are examples of modal verbs.

Modal verbs are verbs used to express ability, obligation, permission, or possibility. Common modal verbs include can, might, may, must, will, would, and should. They are a type of auxiliary verb (otherwise known as a “helping verb”), which means they have to be paired with a main verb to work. For example, in the sentence “I can park the car here,” park is the main verb and can is the modal verb paired with it. Here are some examples of modal verbs in action:

  • Can can mean either to express ability or to ask permission.
    • I can go to the store later.
    • Can I use the car today?
  • May can mean either to express possibility or to ask permission.
    • I may talk to him tomorrow.
    • May I go to the bathroom?
  • Must can mean either to express obligation or to express strong belief.
    • She must tell the truth.
    • He must be almost finished with the project by now.
  • Should means to give advice.
    • He should buy the red sweater.
  • Would means to request or offer, and it can also be used in if sentences.
    • Would you mind getting the door for me?
    • If I were her, I would.
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Modal verbs don’t change their form, and they have no infinitive (the verb with the word “to” in front of it, as in to sleep or to walk) or participle (a form of a verb similar to an adjective or adverb that functions as an adjective, as in swimming or sitting).

Maud Grauer is an editor and content creator for Dot and Dash, LLC.  

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