Modal Auxiliaries | (Definition & Examples) | (Guide 2022)

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What are Modal Auxiliaries with examples?

Modal Auxiliaries are a type of helping verb used only with a main verb to help express its moods, emotions, necessities and possibilities.

It is also used to express these all aspects in both writings as well as in everyday communication.

Some of the examples of Modal Auxiliaries are can, would, should, might, may, will, shall, must, used to, need, ought to, etc.

For example,

  • Should I drive the car?
  • May I come in?
  • I think I should start preparing for the exams.
  • Will you buy me some cookies?
  • I might not attend for tomorrow’s event.

The basic structure of Modal Auxiliaries is simple.

SubjectModal AuxiliaryMain VerbObject
JohnmayinviteMary to his birthday party.

Different Types of Modal Auxiliaries

There are 12 different types of Modal Auxiliaries in English Grammar. Those are,

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would
  • must
  • ought to

Let us learn each of them in detail.

1) Can: The word “can” is used to express the ability or possibility.

Example sentences:

  • Ability: I can do 30 pushups at a time.
  • Possibility: We can possibly win this match.

2) Could: The word “could” is used to express the ability (in the past) and request/permission (in the future).

Example sentences:

  • Ability (in the past): I could get better marks if I just realised my talent when I was a kid.
  • Permission (in the past): Could we meet again tomorrow at the same location?

3) May: The word “may” is used to express the uncertain (future) action, permission and while ask a yes or no question.

Example sentences:

  • Uncertain action (future): I may attend for tomorrow’s event.
  • Permission: May I come inside?
  • Yes or No Question: May I take the seat.

4) Might: The word “might” is used to express the uncertainties of future actions.

Example sentences:

  • Uncertain action (future): I might come to the college tomorrow. (similar to ‘may’)

5) Shall: The word “shall” is used to express the intended future action.

Example sentences:

  • Certain action (future): I shall go to the market today to buy groceries.

6) Should: The word “should” is used to express obligation (burden)/to ask if an obligation exists.

Example sentences:

  • Obligation: I should write a letter to the General Manager.
  • Obligation (if exists): Should I call your parents?

7) Will: The word “will” is used to express the intended future action, while asking a favour and while asking for information.

Example sentences:

  • Intended future action: I will become a Pilot.
  • Asking a favour: Will you buy me some cookies?
  • Asking for information: When you will finish the work?

8) Would: The word “would” is used to state a preference, request a choice respectfully, while explaining an event or action and mentioning past habits.

Example sentences:

  • Preference: Would you like to have Coffee or Tea?
  • Requesting for a choice respectively: I would go with you last night but I had some work.
  • Explaining an event or action: He would like to eat pizza every Sunday.

9) Must: The word “must” is used to express obligations.

Example sentences:

  • Obligation: Every student must follow the rules in the school.

10) ought to: The word “ought to” is used to express obligations.

Example sentences:

  • Obligation: I ought to take risks.

Long and Short Forms of Modals Auxiliaries

Long FormsShort FormsLong FormsShort Forms
couldcould notcouldn’t
maymay not
mightmight not
ought toought not tooughtn’t to
needneed notneedn’t
shall-‘llshall notshan’t
should-‘dshould notshouldn’t
will-‘llwill notwon’t
would-‘dwould notwouldn’t

Different Forms of Modal Auxiliaries

There are two forms of Modal Auxiliaries. Those are,

  • Single word Modal Auxiliaries.
  • Phrasal Modal Auxiliaries.

Single word Modal Auxiliaries

Single-word Modal Auxiliaries are single words that are always followed by the basic (simple) form of a verb. Examples are can, could, may, might, must, etc.

Below are examples of how these types of Auxiliaries influence the meaning of the sentence.

I can buyI am able to buy. / I have permission to buy.
I could buyIf certain conditions were met, I would be able to buy.
I may buyIt’s not certain, but there’s a chance that I’ll buy it. / I have
permission to buy.
I might buyIt’s not certain, but there’s a chance I’ll buy.
I must buyI am obliged to buy.
I shall buyI am buying (in the future).
I should buyIt is advisable/recommended/obligatory that I buy.
I will buyIt’s certain that I buy (in the future). / I am willing to buy.
I would buyMe buying is uncertain; it depends on certain conditions.

Phrasal Modal Auxiliaries

Phrasal Modal Auxiliaries are phrases that use the basic forms of verbs like Single word Modal Auxiliaries. Examples are able to, going to, supposed to, have to, got to, ought to, used to, etc.

Unlike single-word modals, most of the Phrasal verbs contains the verbs “be” and “have” and must be combined to identify tense and number.

I am able to buyI can buy it. / I have permission to buy.
I am going to buyI will be buying (in the future).
I am supposed to buyIt is understood/expected/agreed-upon that I will buy.
I have to buyI am obliged to buy.
I have got to buyI am obliged to buy (extra emphasis on the obligation).
I ought to buyIt is recommended/advisable that I buy.
I used to buyI bought on a regular basis (habitual action in the past).
I had better buyIt is advisable that I buy.

Basic Rules of Modal Auxiliaries

Here are some rules that you need to remember while using Modal Auxiliaries.

Rule 1: The basic verb are followed by all the Modal Auxiliaries.

Previously, we have seen many examples of Modal Auxiliaries, these examples are just formed with basic verbs only. No other types of verbs should be used for Modal Auxiliaries.

For example:

  • I will buy a new car next year.
  • You should participate this competition.
  • She can learn on how to make pizza.

Also Read: What is a Verb in English Grammar? | (types & examples 2021)

Rule 2: Modal Auxiliaries have no “-s” in the 3rd person singular.

In the third-person view, it doesn’t have “-s” at the end of the verb.

For example:

  • Incorrect (X): He can plays violin.
  • Correct (_/): He can play violin

Common Errors while using Modal Auxiliaries

There are 4 major errors that most people do when they use the Modal Auxiliaries in the sentences. Let us learn each of them with examples.

Mistake 1: Using Infinitive verb after a Modal.

As we discussed earlier that we must use Base Verb instead of Infinitive verb.

  • Incorrect (X): I can to speak hindi.
  • Correct (_/): I can speak hindi.

Mistake 2: Using gerund instead of base verb.

  • Incorrect (X): I could reading this book.
  • Correct (_/): I could read this book.

Mistake 3: Using two Modals at a time.

  • Incorrect (X): I must and should be on time to office.
  • Correct (_/): I must be on time to office.

Mistake 4: Not using Modal Auxiliary.

  • Incorrect (X): I pass the exam.
  • Correct (_/): I must pass the exam.


Modal Auxiliaries

Here are the summary points we had learned and discussed till now.

  • Modal Auxiliary is a part of grammar which is used to represent emotions, permission/request, possibilities, etc.
  • These modals are classified into 10 types.
  • There are two type of forms. Those are Single-word and Phrasal Modal Auxiliaries.
  • Only base form of verbs are used along with Modal Auxiliaries.
  • Some Modal Auxiliary examples are can, could, would, should, need, must, etc.

If you are interested to learn more, then you can refer to Wikipedia here.

I hope that you understood the topic “What is an Indirect Object?”. If you still have any doubts, then comment down below and we will respond as soon as possible.

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