Modals in English: Definition, Types, Example Sentences and Questions

A. Definition of Modals

In understanding more deeply about modals, you can first study tenses in English through the Tenses Smart
Book by Drs.
Arif Yosodipuro, MM.

B. Types of Modals

1. Present Modals

a. will (will)

Used to express:
– means “will” in the future simple tense, and is the same as to be going

Example: I will go to Bandung tomorrow (I will go to Bandung tomorrow)

Politely request or offer

Example: Will you carry that bag for me? (Will
you carry the bag for me?)

b. Shall (will)

Used to express:
– it means “will” in the future tense
Example: I shall go to Jakarta
tomorrow (I will go to Jakarta tomorrow)

– Offering help
Shall i turn on the light?
(Should I turn on the light?)

– Making a

Example: I shall meet her tomorrow

c. Must (must, must)

Auxiliary verbs which mean must or must, are used to express:
– Must/must
Example: You
must go now (You have to go now)

– In negative sentences and making answers from
interrogative sentences, always use need not or needn’t not must not or

Example: Must I go now? Yes you must / yes you

-Must not (musn’t) indicates a prohibition or not

Example: You must not smoke in the class (You must not smoke in the

– Must = have to (she/he has to)
Example: You must read this book =
You have to read this book

– Must doesn’t have a past tense. The past
form that has the same meaning is “had to”, and the form is the same for all

Example: I had to meet my sister yesterday (I had to meet my sister

d. May (may, may)

The auxiliary verb which means “may/may”, is used to express:
– Application for a

Example: May I borrow your motorcycle? Yes, you

– Request or hope
Example: May you both full of

e. Should/ought to

Used for:
– Auxiliary verbs which mean better or should
Example: She ought to be here
now (He should be here now)

– Expressing unfinished/fulfilled or neglected

Example: The work ought to have been finished last week (The work should have
been completed last week)

f. can (can)

Used to express:
– Ability or skill of a person
Example: I can sing (I can

– Ask permission
Example: Can I borrow your book?
(Can I borrow your book?)

: He can be ill
(Maybe he is sick)

2. Modals Past

a. would

Used to express:
– Past form of will which means “will”
Example: He would be punished
before he escaped (He would be punished before he escaped)

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-A polite request/request
Example: Would you please help me? (Would you like to help

-When combined with the word “like” then it shows desire or desire
Example: i would like to eat (I want
to eat)

– Combined with the word “rather” shows the meaning of prefer (prefer)
Example: I would rather be a
doctor than a president (I choose to be a doctor rather than being president)

b. Should

Used to express:
– Past form of shall
Example: When he came to my house I should

– Suggestions, means “preferably”
Example: You are ill, you should go to the doctor soon

– Required
Example: He should study hard (He should study hard)

– In the past form it means to show an activity that should have been done but in reality it was not done, or it
could also mean regrets in the past
Example: You should have studied hard before taking an exam
(You should have studied hard before taking an exam).
This means that the subject does not
study hard but still takes the exam.

c. Must/Had to

– Past form of Must.
– Required (cannot not be done).
Example: You must/had to
study in Biology class yesterday.
(You should have studied harder in biology class

d. Might

– Stating news sentences in the form of Past Tense.
Example: The newspaper said it might rain
(Newspaper says it might rain tomorrow)

– Use a more
polite expression.

Example: Joni might do the exam well. (Joni will do
well on the exam)

– Says a big possibility.
Example: Ariel
was absent yesterday.
He might be sick. (Ariel didn’t come in yesterday. He
might be sick)

e. could

is the past tense of can and the form is the same for all subjects. However, in use it does
not always mean the past tense or the past.
Could can be used to express:
– The
past form of can

Example: Mary could sing a song when she was young (Mary could sing a song
when she was little)

– Request politely
Example: Could you help me now? (Can you help me

Example: She could be at home now, but she usually plays volleyball

3. Modals Perfect

a. Must have + V3

Past conclusions.
Example: Anto passed the exam. He must have studied.
(Anto did well in his exams. He must have studied)

b. Might have + V3

Possible past.
Example: Anto was absent. He might have been sick. (Anto
doesn’t come in. He might be sick)

c. Should have + V3

Obligations that were not carried out in the past.
Example: Anto didn’t pass. He
should have studied.
(Anto didn’t graduate. He should have studied

Facts contradictory: he didn’t study.

d. Could have + V3

An ability that wasn’t used in the past.
Anto could have done the
homework himself.
(Anto should be able to finish his own

Facts have opposite meanings: He didn’t do the homework himself.

Modals formula

To make it easier to make modal sentences, you can see the modal formula below.

1. Present Modals

The modals present formula, namely (S + Present Modals + Verb 1)

2. Modals Past

The formula for modals past, namely (S + Modals Past + Verb 1)

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3. Modals Perfect

The modals perfect formula, namely (S + Modals Perfect+ Have + Verb 3)

Use of Modals

Modals can also be used in everyday life. The following is the use of modals in everyday

  • Can be used to express a necessity ( expressing necessity).
  • Can be used to show about the choice ( expressing preference ).
  • Can be used as a guide to find out abilities (showing abilities).
  • Can be used to give advice to others (advisability).
  • Can be used to ask for help (polite request).

Examples of Modals Sentences and Their Meanings

  1. I can run fast. (I could/could run)
  2. You can use my motorcycle
  3. Can I borrow your notebook? (Can I borrow your notebook?)
  4. When I was a child, I could run fast
  5. Could you help me? (Can you help me?)
  6. You could talk to your teacher about your problem
  7. I will cook dinner for my family
  8. Will you please turn the TV off? (Can you turn off the TV?)
  9. Would you please show me the way to the bus station? (Can you show me the way to the bus stop?)
  10. I would rather stay at home than go for shopping
  11. May I borrow your dictionary? (Can I borrow your dictionary?)
  12. You may leave earlier
  13. John might be at the canteen
  14. You should stay at home
  15. I must go now
  16. You must not cheat on the exam
  17. Shall I close the window? (Should I close the window?)
  18. I shall go to school at 6:30

Examples of Modals Questions

Discussion: The conjunction ‘but’ states that the sentence that follows contradicts the
previous statement, that is, even though he was invited, he didn’t want to: he instead chose to stay at
The expression of choice of tendency to take action is expressed by the pattern of
preference: would rather/ preference.

2. I heard Baron speak English, French, Dutch, and even Japanese to tourists, he … the best tourist guide in
a. should
b. must

c. had better

d. e
. would
rather be

Discussion: From the fact that “Baron can speak English, French, Dutch, and even Japanese
to tourists”, it can be concluded that he must be the best tourist guide in his area.
express the conclusion of what happened/happened, the capital “must” is used.

3. Maria _______ sing well. All her friends like her voice.


c. may

d. shouldn’t

Discussion: The correct auxiliary capital is ‘can’ which expresses the meaning CAN.

4. When you have a small child in the house, you _____ leave small objects lying around. Such
objects ____ be swallowed, causing serious injury or even death.

a. may ;
may not

b. mustn’t ;

c. can ;

d. must ; may not

Discussion: The correct word to fill the sentence is ‘mustn’t;may’. “You MUST
NOT leave small objects lying around.
Like objects that MAY be swallowed..”

5. Yanti looks so pale and weak, she must be sick . The italic sentence

a. she has to be sick
maybe she is sick

c. it’s possible that she is

d. she is rather

e. i conclude that she is

Discussion: Because sentences that use must show certainty. The answer is

That’s a brief explanation of modals and their usage. Easy to understand right?
So the conclusion is as an auxiliary verb to know the context being discussed. Modals
are usually placed before the main verb.