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Modals
Modal Verb Meaning Expressing Example

I must stop when the traffic


to have to 100 % obligation
lights turn red.

must
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?


can

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
tired..

could Excuse me, could I just say


to be allowed to more polite permission
something?

it is possible possibility It could rain tomorrow!

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

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

Might I use your phone


to be allowed to more polite permission
please?

might I might come and visit you in


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

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necessary necessity Need I say more?


need

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

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
(deduction)
work

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

Exercise on modals.

1. PRACTICE
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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