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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs: Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#1)

Dennis Oliver
Modal Verbs (#1):

The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

Here are some important general guidelines on the use of
modal verbs:


The English modal verbs are auxiliary verbs.
Modal verbs are always combined with
verbs to show complete meanings.


There are both single-word modals and
phrasal modals.

The single-word modals are

can, could, may, might, must, shall, should,
will, would

Phrasal modals include the following:

be able to, be going to, be supposed to,
had better, have to, have got to,
ought to, used to


All the single-word modals above are
followed by the simple form of verbs:

not this:

*He may knows the answer.

or this:

*He may knowing the answer.

or this:

*He may knew the answer.

or this:

*He may known the answer.

but this:

He may know the answer.


Most of the phrasal modals include to:

be able to, be going to, be supposed to,
have to, have got to, ought to, used to

With these phrasal modals, the simple form
of a verb follows to:

He's able to help us. 
He's going to help us. 
He's supposed to help us. 
He has to help us. 
He's got to help us. 
He ought to help us. 
He used to help us. 


One of the phrasal modals, had better,
does not include to. Use the simple form
of a verb after had better:

He'd better help us. (not *He'd better to help us.)


All of the modal verbs show meaning.
When they are used with a verb, they show
someone's feeling or attitude toward
the action or situation that the verb shows.


Every modal verb has more than one
use and/or meaning.


Special Note:

In some grammar books, dare and need are included in
lists of modals because their
 "behavior," in some situations,
is similar to
 the "behavior" of modals:

Dare can be used with or without to and a simple verb
 negative statements and in questions:

He didn't dare (to) leave early. /
Do I dare (to) leave early?

Need can be used with not and a simple verb:

He need not leave early.

In other situations, the "behavior" of dare and need
is not like the "behavior"
 of one-word modals.

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