Definition : The verbs can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must and ought to are called ‘modal verbs’ or ‘ modals’. They are used before ordinary verbs and express meanings such as permissions, possibility, certainity and necessity. ‘Need’ and ‘dare’ can sometimes be used like modals.
The modals are termed as ‘defective verbs’ because some parts are wanting in them. They have no ‘ –s’ in the III person singulars; they have no infinitive and ‘ing’ forms.
1. CAN , COULD , MAY , MIGHT
i. ‘Can’ usually expresses ability or capacity, as –
I can swim across the river.
He can solve the sum.
ii. ‘Can’ and ‘may’ express permission. ‘May’ is rather formal.
You can go now. ( order)
You may go now. ( polite manner)
Can I borrow your umbrella? (asking with some authority)
May I borrow your umbrella? ( humble request)
iii. ‘May’ is used to express possibility in affirmative sentences.’ Can’ is used in corresponding interrogative and negative sentences, as –
It may rain today.
Can it be true?
It can’t be true.
Compare ‘it can’t be true’ with ‘it may not be true’.
‘can’t’ denotes ‘impossibility’ while ‘may not’ denotes ’improbability’.
iv. In very formal English, ‘may’ is used to express a wish; as,
May you live long!
May success attend you!
v. ‘could’ and ‘might’ are used as past equivalents of ‘can’ and ‘may’; as,
I could swim across the river when I was young. (ability)
He said I might/could go. (permission)
I thought he might be at home. (possibility)
vi. ‘could’ and ‘might’ are used as less positive versions of ‘can’ and ‘may’;
I could attend the party. (less positive and more hesitant)
Might/could I borrow your cycle? (a different way of saying)
It might rain today. (less positive)
Could you pass me the salt? (polite request)
vii. ‘might’ is also used to express a degree of dissatisfaction; as,
You might pay a little more attention to your appearance.
2. SHALL, SHOULD, WILL, WOULD
i. ‘Shall’ is used with I person and ‘will’ is used with all persons to express pure future.
I shall come tomorrow.
You will speak the truth.
In present day English, however, there is a growing tendency to use ‘will’ rather than ‘shall’ in every situation.
ii. ‘Shall’ is sometimes used with II and III person to express a command, a promise, or threat; as,
He shall not enter my house again.( command)
You shall have a holiday tomorrow. ( promise)
You shall be punished for this. (threat)
In similar situations, ‘will’ is used with the I person; as,
I will punish you for this. ( threat)
iii. ‘should’ and ‘would’ are used as past equivalents of ‘shall’ and ‘will’.
I expect I should( more often ‘would’)get a first class.
He said he would be twenty five next year.
iv. ‘should’ is used with all persons to express duty or obligation;as,
We should obey the laws.
You should keep your promise.
v. In clauses of condition, ‘should’ is used to express a suppositionthat may not be true; as,
If it should rain, they will not come.
If he should see me ,he will be annoyed.
vi. ‘should’ and ‘would’ are used ;
a. I should like you to help her.
(‘should/would like’ is polite form of want)
(‘should/would like’ is polite form of want)
b. Would you lend me your scooter? ( more polite than ‘will you’)
c. You should have been more careful. ( A past obligation that was not fulfilled)
d. He should be in the library now. ( probability)
e. I wish you would not chatter so much. ( ‘would’ after ‘wish’ expresses a strong desire)
3. MUST , OUGHT TO
i. ‘must’ is used to express necessity or obligation.
You must improve your spellings.
You must get up early.
ii. ‘must’ refers to the present or near future. To talk about the past we use ‘had to’; ‘must’ has no past form.
iii. ‘must’ is often used when the obligation comes from the speaker. When the obligation comes from somewhere else, ‘have to’ is often used. Compare ;
I must be on a diet. ( It is my own idea)
I have to be on a diet.( The doctor has told me to be on a diet)
iv. ‘must’ can also express logical certainity.
Living in such crowded conditions must be difficult. ( I am sure it difficult)
v. ‘ought to’ expresses moral obligations or desirability; as,
We ought to love our neighbours.
We ought to help him.
vi. ‘ought to’ can also be used to express probability.
Prices ought to come down soon.
This book ought to be very useful.
4. USED TO, NEED, DARE
i. The word ‘used to’ expresses a discontinued habit.
There used to be a house. I used to live there when I was a boy.
In colloquial English, however, ‘did you use to’ and ‘did not use to’ usually replace ‘used to’ and ‘ used not to’.
ii. ‘need’ denotes necessity or obligation. It has no ‘-s’ and ‘-ed’ forms and is used with an infinitive without ‘to’ only in negative and interrogative sentences and in sentences that contain semi negative words like ‘scarcely’ and ‘hardly’.
He need not go. ( = It is not necessary for him to go)
Need I write to him?
I need hardly take his help.
iii. When conjugated with ‘do’, ‘need’ has the usual forms- needs, needed and is used with a ‘to’ infinitive. It is commonly used in negatives and interrogatives.
Do you need to go now?
I don’t need to meet him.
One needs to be careful.
iv. Compare :
a. I didn’t need to buy it. ( It was not necessary so I didn’t buy it)
b. I needn’t have bought it. ( It was not necessary but I bought it)
v. ‘dare’ ( = be brave enough to), as distinct from the ordinary verb dare ( = challenge), does not take ‘–s’ in the III person singular present tense. It is generally used in negative and interrogative sentences. When conjugated without ‘do’, it is followed by an infinitive without ‘to’; when conjugated with ‘do’ , It takes an infinitive with or without ‘to’ after it.
He dare not take such a step.
How dare you contradict me?
He dared not do it.
He doesn’t dare speak me.
1. ___ I see my wife now, doctor? ( can/could) (not very sure)
2. ___ I smoke here? ( may/ might)
3. He _____ help you if you ask him. ( will/shall)
4. Rahul _____ drive a car at the age of 12. ( can/must)
5. This ____ be a Satyajit Rai film. ( may/might) ( not very sure)
6. He _____ be hiding. ( can/may) ( sure)
7. Ram ____ come today. (can/might/may) ( uncertain)
8. _______ I take your leave? ( can/may) (permission)
9. It ______ rain today. ( can/may) ( great possibility)
10. If he had tried his best, he ___ easily win the game. ( can, could)
11. You _____ complete your home work now. ( should/ must) ( compulsion)
12. You ____ be home by 11 o’clock. ( should/must) (order)
13. Rita _____ speak English fluently. ( can/would) ( ability)
14. He told me that he ___ return to his native land soon. ( will/ would)
15. Mohan ____ still be lying in bed. ( will/must) (habitual prediction)
16. That ____ be the postman. (will/must) ( prediction)
17. I _____ smell a fire burning. ( can/will) ( ability)
18. Diana ____have suffered badly after the car crash.( must/shall)
19. I _____ like to have a cup of coffee. ( will/would) ( wish)
20. ________ that I were rich! (will/would)
21. Duty ____ be done. ( should/must) ( greater determination)
22. I wish he ____ stand first. ( will/would) (wish)
23. We ____ respect our elders. ( should/must) (greater determination)
24. I ____ to clear the exam this year. ( need/dare)
25. How ____ you do it? ( dare/need) ( challenge)
26. Your headache ___also be due to some other problem. ( can/could) (not sure)
27. I am sure it ____ be cared. ( can/may)
28. It ____ be Jaya. ( can/may) ( not sure)
29. I ____ go to the market today. ( may/can) ( not sure)
30. Rohan ____ take exercise daily. ( must/should) ( less determination)
31. We ____ serve our country. ( ought to/should) ( not so forceful)
32. You _____ not waste your time. ( should/must) ( more forceful)
33. If wishes were horses, beggars ____ ride. ( will/would)
34. ______ I take her out, mother? ( can / could) ( more polite)
35. _____ I come in sir? ( may/ can) ( more formal)
36. It ____ rain today. ( may/might) ( less uncertain)
37. The sun ____ rise in the east. ( will/shall) ( general fact)
38. Had you worked hard, you ____ have passed. ( would/should)
39. I _____ rather die than beg. (will/would) ( preference)
40. Walk fast lest you _____ miss the train. (shall/should)
41. I told him that he ____ take the test. ( can/could)
42. You ____ leave now. (may/might) ( less forceful)
43. The teacher ___ be busy at this time. ( can/must) ( greater possibility)
44. She told me that he ____ go. ( will/would)
45. I ____ teach him a lesson. ( will/would) (threat)
46. She ____ marry Sham. (will/would) ( insistence)
47. You ___ attend the evening class. (must/will) (compulsion)
48. _____you give me a glass of water please. ( can/could) (formal)
49. You ____ reach there in time. ( must/should) ( more determination)
50. ______ I answer your question? (should/need) (requirement)
51. I ____ be true. ( may/might) ( very unsure)
52. I wish I ____help you but I have my own problems.(can/could)
53. _____ that I were a king! ( will/would)
54. If I were the Prime Minister, I ____fight corruption. (will/would)
55. Had I reached the station in time, I ____have caught the train. ( will/would)
56. This is a film you ____ not avoid. ( must/can) (insistence)
57. I _____ dance Bharatnatyam. ( can/may) (ability)
58. You ____ not leave without my permission.(will/shall) ( threat )
59. He was so weak that he ____ not walk. ( could/would)
60. I told him that he ______ leave. ( can/could)
61. He ___ like to spend an evening with you. ( will/would)
62. The Headmaster ____ check all these accounts. ( should/dare)
63. _____ you like to take coffee? ( can/would)
64. If you meet him you ____ tell him about it. ( might/must)
65. He ___ be rich but he is very cruel. ( will/may)
66. We ____ show respect to our elders. (ought to/can)
67. The doctor told me that I ____ not smoke anymore. ( must/will)
68. _____ you possibly lend me a thousand rupees? ( would/ could)
69. You ____ not enter my class. ( must/will)
70. We ____ keep our neighbours as happy as we can. ( may/should)
71. I ____ help him with money before I leave for London. ( will/would)
72. The children asked if they ____have ice cream. ( can/could)
73. We ___ do as we are told. ( can/could)
74. Work hard lest you ____ fail. ( may/should)
75. You ____ respect your elders. ( ought to/can)
76. _____ I come in? I am sorry to be late. ( may/shall)
77. He has been absent for a fortnight, he ___ be ill. ( must/ill)
78. You ____ not see him, just write a letter. ( need/dare)
79. We ____ go to the station by taxi, it is getting late. (may/should)
80. I ____ not come yesterday since I was too busy. (would/could)
81. You ____ clean your teeth every morning. (shall/should)
82. It ____ rain today. ( may/might) ( very little possibility)
83. This box is very heavy, I ____ not lift it. ( should/may)
84. You ___ take a taxi or you will miss the train. ( shall/should)
85. ____ you like to read the book? ( will/would)
86. ____ you lift this box? ( can/will)
87. It is getting late, we ____ go home. ( should/can)
88. I ___ run five miles in an hour. ( can/shall)
89. You _____go out for a walk every day. (must/may)
90. Why didn’t you inform me? I ____ have lent you the money. (can/could)
91. ____ you finish your work in two hours. ( can/may)
92. ____his soul rest in peace. ( may/might)
93. The doctor says that I ____ eat anything I like. ( can/may)
94. Walk carefully lest you ___ sprain your foot. ( may/should)
95. You ___ not take this trouble. I will do that. ( need/may)
96. The door of his room is not locked, he ___ be in. ( may/shall)
97. Forty years ago only the rich __ think of owning a radio set. ( can/could)
98. ____ you like to get rid of that troublesome fellow? ( would/can)
99. You ___ not hurry, there is plenty of time. ( need/may)
100. You ___ have returned these books last week. ( shall/should)
31. ought to
66. ought to
75. ought to