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Modal Verb Meaning Expressing Example

I must stop when the traffic

to have to 100 % obligation
lights turn red.

logical conclusion He must be very tired after
to be very probable
(deduction) such enormous work

You must not smoke in the

not to be allowed to prohibition
must not hospital.

to be able to ability I can swim

to be allowed to permission Can I use your phone please?


it is possible possibility Smoking can cause cancer !

When I was younger I could

to be able to ability in the past stay up all night and not get

could Excuse me, could I just say

to be allowed to more polite permission

it is possible possibility It could rain tomorrow!

to be allowed to permission May I use your phone please?

it is possible, probable possibility, probability It may rain tomorrow!

Might I use your phone

to be allowed to more polite permission

might I might come and visit you in

weak possibility,
it is possible, probable America next year, if I can
save enough money.


necessary necessity Need I say more?


lack of
I need not buy any tomatoes.
not necessary necessity/absence of
need not There are plenty in the fridge.

used to say or ask I should / ought to see a

what is the correct or 50 % obligation doctor. I have a terrible
best thing to do headache.

to suggest an action
You should / ought to revise
should/ought or to show that it is advice
your lessons
to necessary

He should / ought to be very

logical conclusion
to be very probable tired after such enormous

to suggest an action
You 'd better revise your
or to show that it is advice
had better lessons

Exercise on modals.

Choose the right modal verb

1. There is plenty of tomatoes in the fridge. You (neednt/must/may) buy any.

2. It's a hospital. You (neednt/mustnt/should) smoke.
3. He had been working for more than 11 hours. He (cant/must/had better) be tired after such hard work.
He (cant/may/must) prefer to get some rest.
4. I (can/could/must) speak Arabic fluently when I was a child and we lived in Morocco. But after we
moved back to Canada, I had very little exposure to the language and forgot almost everything I knew
as a child. Now, I (should/can/could) just say a few things in the language.
5. Take an umbrella. It (must/may/couldnt) rain later.

Related material:

Modal verbs.

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