Printable version of Managing Modals (PDF).


Modal verbs are helping/auxiliary verbs that give additional information about the function of the main verb that follows. They express attitudes such as ability, possibility, permission, and suggestion.

  • Suggestion: Students should start working on essays early.
  • Necessity: They must buy their tickets today.
  • Possibility: She may be sick.

Modals in the English language

  • can/could/be able to
  • may/might
  • shall/should
  • must/have to
  • will/would

How to use modals

  1. Never use -s, -d, or -ing endings with modals

    e.g. Participants can respond to the questionnaire at their own pace.
     
  2. Use the infinitive without "to" after modals (except in "ought to")

    e.g., Participants might to be unsure of what the question is asking.
     
  3. Use inversion to turn a sentence that uses a modal into a question

    Sentence using a modal: Participants can be between the ages of 13-15.
    Question using a modal: Can participants be between the ages of 13-15?
     
  4. Add "not" after the modal to make it negative

    e.g., They could not understand the research question.
     
  5. Never use two modals together

    e.g., The treatment group might could demonstrate a different response from the control group.

Modal tenses

  1. Simple modals show present or future time.

    modal + base form

    e.g., We can study now. (present)
    e.g., He should leave now. (future)
     
  2. Progressive modals express an activity in progress at the moment of speaking or show an action in progress at a specific time in the future.

    modal + be + present participle

    e.g., They must be sleeping. (present progressive)
    e.g., She should be leaving soon. (future progressive)

     
  3. Perfect modals express a past action.

    modal + have + past participle

    e.g., I should have studied last night. (present perfect)
     
  4. Perfect progressive modals express an activity in progress at a specific time in the past.

    modal + have been + present participle

    e.g., You might have been sleeping when I called. (present perfect progressive)

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