Modals are a sub-category of auxiliaries or helping verbs that express the speaker’s point of view on the mode of behaviour of the doer of an action.
The auxiliaries (shall, should, will, would, can, could, may, might, must, ought to, used to, need and dare) that behave in the above-mentioned manner are called modals. They express attitudes such as ability, capacity, possibility, permission, advice, determination, etc.
Here are some examples of modal verbs in sentences:
When used in sentences, can expresses ability, capacity, power, permission, skill, intelligence, etc.
1. This boy can solve the most difficult of mathematical problems. (ability)
2. Animals cannot speak but they can communicate amongst themselves. (capacity, capability)
3. I can run ten miles without a break. (power)
4. They cannot leave without completing the work. (permission)
5. It can rain any time now. (strong possibility)
6. Anybody can make mistakes. (theoretical possibility)
7. My younger brother can solve any puzzle easily. (ability)
Could expresses the past tense of can (with its applications), request, incidents, unfulfilled condition, present possibility, etc.
1. My younger brother could speak German fluently after he had completed the language course. (past ability)
2. My father could not buy me a new mobile phone as other expenses came up. (past capacity)
3. Deepak could lift twenty kgs of weight when he was just fifteen. (past power)
4. Jyoti could sit wherever she wanted in the class. (past permission)
5. Could you help me set the table, please? (request)
6. I could have attended the wedding had I received the invitation letter in time. (unfulfilled condition)
7. Mosquitoes could spread malaria in the area. (remote possibility)
May is used in the context of permission, possibility, wish, purpose, concession, guess, etc.
1. May I share your lunch? (permission)
2. She may put on anything she likes, for the function. (permission)
3. India may win the hockey match. (possibility)
4. May you achieve what you aspire for! (wish)
5. Save some money every month so that you may not have to face problems. (purpose)
6. Wherever I may go, I will not forget you. (concession)
7. It is an important question, it may be asked in the examination. (guess)
8. You may sit wherever you like. (permission)
Might is used as the past tense of may, to express hesitant permission, past possibility, remote present possibility, purpose in the past, etc.
1. He said to me that I might do as I pleased. (past tense of may)
2. Might I use your scooter today? (hesitant or diffident permission)
3. Her sister might have become a nurse. (past possibility)
4. My father might fly to Canada. I am not sure, though. (remote present possibility)
5. The patient took medicines so that he might get well soon. (purpose in context of past)
6. The scorpion might have stung the boy. (remote possibility)
Will is used with third person subjects to express simple future or plan, general instruction, request, possibility, habit, command, result, etc.
1. The manager will inspect the office. (simple future)
2. All the students will put on the ceremonial dress. (general instruction)
3. Will you show me the way to the AllMS? (request)
4. On account of her improved performance, Tejanshi will feature in the merit list. (possibility)
5. He will talk about nothing but politics. (habit)
6. Will you remain silent now? (command)
7. The temperature will fall by 1°C with the increase in altitude by every 165 meters, (general law)
8. If you tease a dog, it will attack you. (result)
9. Grandmother will tell us the stories of real heroes. (ordinary plan)
When used with I and We, will expresses promise, determination, willingness, threat, etc. [otherwise, shall is used with I/We to show normal future].
1. I will always remember what you have done for me. (promise)
2. We will pass the examination with high grades. (determination)
3. I will help you complete your homework. (willingness)
4. The Principal will turn you out if you do not mend your ways. (threat)
Would expresses the past tense of Will, preference, polite request, offer or invitation, characteristic behaviour, etc.
1. He informed me that he would not come the following day. (past tense of will)
2. We would rather starve than beg. (preference)
3. Would you drop me at Ajmeri Gate, please? (polite request)
4. Sometimes, he would get angry with me. (past happening)
5. Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me? (offer)
6. At times, he would invite people over to dinner, then forget. (characteristic behaviour)
7. I would obey you in all conditions. (intention)
8. If I had wings, I would fly like a bird in the sky. (result in a conditional sentence)
Shall shows normal future with I and we (first person) and order/command, threat, promise, determination, legal and official regulations, instructions, etc. when used with second and third person pronouns and nouns.
1. We shall prepare a theatre presentation for the literature festival. (normal future)
2. You shall keep standing until I ask you to sit down. (order/command)
3. You shall be fined if you do not pay your school fees on time. (threat)
4. Each one of you shall have a storybook from me. (promise)
5. The soldiers shall prove themselves to be the worthy sons of the motherland. (determination)
6. The law-breakers shall be punished. (legal regulation)
7. Shall I call the doctor for you? (offer)
Should is used as the past tense of shall, to show advice or suggestion, moral duty, condition in conditional sentences, with lest, etc.
1. Meera stated that she should be there on time. (as past tense of shall)
2. The patient should take medicine(s) on time to get well soon. (advice)
3. Since you are so rich, you should help the poor. (moral duty/obligation)
4. Should you meet him, ask him to see me. (condition)
5. You should chew your food properly. (advice)
6. Walk carefully lest you should slip and hurt yourself. (with lest to convey advice or caution)
The use of must expresses obligation, compulsion, necessity, conclusion, strong possibility, prohibition, etc.
1. You must have your driving licence with you when you are driving any vehicle. (compulsion/necessity)
2. The businessman has a fleet of expensive cars; he must be quite rich. (conclusion)
3. He has practised a lot; he must win the race. (strong possibility/probability)
4. The devotees must not enter the temple with their footwear on. (prohibition)
5. He is ill, he must consult the doctor. (urgency)
6. Children must not touch electric wires. (prohibition)
Ought to mainly expresses moral obligation or duty.
1. Children ought to show respect to their teachers and elders.
2. You ought to have helped your friend when he was in trouble.
3. Names ought not to be called.
4. Oughtn’t we (to) love our motherland? Remember -)
Should and Ought to, both, are used in the same sense, but ‘ought to‘ expresses a stronger mood or attitude.
Used to is used to express some past habit that no longer exists.
1. We used to go to watch movies in our school days.
2. My grandmother used to tell me stories of real heroes in my childhood.
3. I used to play football in my childhood.
Need expresses necessity or requirement.
1. I am fine. You need not worry about me.
2. Children need to practise obedience.
3. Need you be so rude to me?
4. Need he go to such lengths to please them!
Dare indicates courage or bravery.
1. How dare you answer your father back?
2. She dare not wade into the deep waters.
3. Dare one cross the dark forest all alone?
4. I dare say that you are a liar.
5. Nobody dare face a wild beast.
Used to, Need and Dare are called semi-modals as they have only one use each and are used with an implicit or explicit to’.