Complete Guide to English Modal Verbs – English Grammar Lesson

Complete Guide to English Modal Verbs – English Grammar Lesson


Hi, I’m Stephanie. Welcome to Oxford Online English! In this lesson, you can learn about English
modal verbs. What are modal verbs? What do they do? Why do you need them? You’ll see answers to all these questions
in this class. Before we start, you should check out our
website: Oxford Online English dot com. You can find all our free English lessons. We also offer online classes with professional
teachers, where you can study speaking, prepare for IELTS, improve your pronunciation, or
whatever else you want! Let’s get back to our topic with some basic
points you should know to use modal verbs correctly. Shall we start? Yeah, we probably should! So, can you tell me something about modal
verbs? Sure. What would you like to know? I must know everything about them! That might take a long time! You’ll help me, though, right? Of course, even though it may be challenging. There are nine modal verbs in English. You just heard a dialogue with nine lines. Each line contains one modal verb. Can you name the nine modal verbs in English? Maybe you know them already, but if not, you
can go back and try to find them in the dialogue. The nine modal verbs are: can, could, may,
might, will, would, shall, should and must. What do modal verbs do, and how are they different
from other verbs? Also, why are they so important? Modal verbs add information to other verbs. That’s their job. They can add ideas like possibility, uncertainty,
or obligation to another verb. Grammatically, modal verbs follow their own
rules. Let’s see what this means. Rule number one: a modal verb is followed
by an infinitive verb, without ‘to’. For example: ‘She can speak fluent Spanish.’ ‘We shouldn’t do anything until we know
more.’ ‘They won’t be here before ten.’ You can’t put a noun after a modal verb,
or an -ing verb, or anything else, only an infinitive verb without ‘to’. Rule number two: modal verbs can’t be used
in different times or tenses. Modal verbs don’t have past, perfect or
future tenses like regular verbs do. There are some cases where this isn’t 100%
true. For example, ‘could’ is the past tense
of ‘can’ in some cases. ‘Would’ sometimes acts like a past version
of ‘will’. However, ‘could’ can also have a present
or future meaning. It’s better to think about each modal verb
individually. Rule number three: modal verbs are *auxiliary*
verbs. That means you make negatives by adding ‘not’
to the end of the verb. For example: can, can’t. Would, wouldn’t. Might, might not. Negative modal verbs are often contracted,
although ‘might not’ and ‘may not’ are usually written fully, without contractions. For ‘will’ and ‘shall’, the spelling
changes in the negative: will, won’t; shall, shan’t. To make a question, move the modal verb before
the subject. For example: ‘Should I tell him?’ ‘What would you do?’ What about the other question: why are modal
verbs important? Modal verbs can express many basic concepts
which you will need regularly, in any situation. Modal verbs are used to express obligation,
give advice, talk about possibility and probability, ask for permission, and more. Next, let’s look at the meanings which modal
verbs can express in more detail. Can I ask you something? Sure. I’m thinking I might ask for a transfer
to the Singapore office. I’ve always wanted to live abroad, and I
think now’s the right time. What do you think? I think if you’ve thought about it, then
you should try it. Better to regret something you did than something
you didn’t do; that’s my view. Hmm… Will they agree, though? You don’t know till you ask! Anyway, I’m sure they’ll agree; you have
a good track record here, and if you come back later you’ll have a lot of valuable
experience. So, they should say yes. I’m just worried, because I know that Olga
asked for a transfer to Canada, and they wouldn’t let her… That’s a totally different situation. Olga’s a tax specialist; she’s irreplaceable. I wanted to ask one more thing: will you write
a reference for me? No problem! I’d be happy to. There’s one more thing you must do before
you apply. What’s that? Talk to the Singapore office. I can put you in contact if you need. That’s great! Thanks so much for helping me out. You can use modal verbs to express nine fundamental
ideas. Maybe you’re thinking: “That’s nice
and easy! There are nine modal verbs, and nine meanings,
so each verb must have one meaning, right?” Nope! Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than
that. First, the nine meanings are broad. Each contains several smaller ideas. Secondly, every modal verb can have more than
one meaning. Anyway, we’ll worry about that later! For now, let’s look at the nine fundamental
ideas which modal verbs can express. Asking permission. Expressing possibility or impossibility, when
you think something could be true or not. Giving advice or suggestions. Expressing certainty or uncertainty, when
you’re sure something is true or not. Expressing probability, when you think one
result is more likely than another Expressing willingness or refusal, for example
when someone lets or doesn’t let someone else do something. Making a request or an offer. Expressing an obligation, when it’s necessary
to do something. Expressing ability, when someone has the capacity
to do something, or not. In the dialogue, there’s at least one example
of each of these nine basic meanings. Can you find them? If you want a challenge, go back and listen
to the dialogue again. Try to find one sentence with a modal verb
which expresses each of the nine basic meanings. Let’s look together. Here are nine sentences from the dialogue. The first sentence is asking permission. You use ‘can’ to ask ‘Is this OK?’ Sentence two is talking about possibility. You’re saying that something is possible,
but not certain. The third sentence is giving advice. Number four is expressing certainty. You’re sure that something is true now,
or that something will happen in the future. In case you’re wondering, possibility and
certainty are closely related. We’re separating them, but you could also
see them as two sides of the same idea. However, probability, as in sentence five,
is different. Here’s a question: what’s the difference
between probability and possibility? Probability has different levels. Something can be 90% probable, or 50% or 20%,
or whatever. Possibility is binary: either something is
possible, or it isn’t. It doesn’t make sense to say that something
is 50% possible. This might sound abstract, but it’s relevant
to using modal verbs. Here, ‘should’ expresses probability. The sentence ‘They should say yes’ means
that it’s more likely they’ll say ‘yes’ than ‘no’. The sixth sentence expresses refusal. ‘Wouldn’t’ here has a similar meaning
to ‘refused to’. Number seven is a request, when you ask someone
to do something for you. The eighth sentence expresses an obligation. ‘Must’ here means that it’s necessary
to do something. Finally, the ninth sentence expresses ability. So, there’s a lot of information here! What should you take away? Let’s look at two key points. First, not every modal verb was used in these
nine sentences. There’s no ‘could’, no ‘shall’ and
no ‘may’. What does this tell you? It shows you what we told you before: every
modal verb can have more than one meaning. Also, it shows you that every idea, like obligation,
certainty, and so on, can be expressed by more than one modal verb. Let’s look at this point in more detail. Can you look at something for me? Sure. What’s up? It’s my laptop. It’s acting weirdly. I know you’re good with these things, so… What’s the problem exactly? It keeps freezing, and I can’t do anything
for a while. Sometimes it’s just a few seconds, but sometimes
it goes on for half an hour. It’s really annoying! Older laptops can get like that sometimes. But I only bought it six months ago! Do you have an antivirus program? Yes, and I do scans regularly. It can’t be a virus. I’m not so good with technology, but I am
pretty security conscious. Hmm… That’s probably not the problem, then. Can I take it for an hour or so? I’ll need your login password, too. That way I can take a proper look. OK, here. Thank you so much! In this dialogue, there were five different
sentences using the modal verb ‘can’. Do you remember them? Here they are. In each sentence, ‘can’ has a different
meaning. Think about the nine basic meanings of modal
verbs, which you saw in section two. Can you explain the meaning of ‘can’ in
each of these sentences? Can you see how they’re different? ‘Can you look at something for me?’ is
a request. ‘I can’t do anything for a while’ expresses
ability. ‘Older laptops can get like that sometimes’
expresses a general possibility. It’s like saying ‘It’s common for older
laptops to get like that.’ ‘It can’t be a virus’ expresses certainty. It’s like saying ‘I’m sure it isn’t
a virus.’ ‘Can I take it for an hour or so?’ is
asking permission to do something. This is just one modal verb. ‘Can’ is an extreme example, because most
modal verbs don’t have five different meanings. Actually, ‘can’ has a sixth meaning—it
can be used to make an offer, as in ‘Can I help you with anything?’ However, every modal verb has at least two
different meanings, and most have three or four. So, what’s the point here? Point one: *really* don’t try to understand
modal verbs by translating them into your language. Of course, this is true generally, but it’s
especially important with modal verbs, because they don’t translate cleanly between languages. If you think that ‘can’ in English translates
to one verb in your language, you’ll create problems for yourself. Point two: to understand a modal verb in a
sentence, you need to understand the context. Again, this is general advice, but again it’s
especially important with modal verbs. The meaning of a modal verb can be completely
different in different contexts. Point three: the different meanings of a modal
verb are unconnected. Look at two sentences with ‘must’: ‘It
must be late—it’s dark outside.’ ‘You must read this article. It’s so interesting!’ What does ‘must’ mean in these two sentences? In the first sentence, ‘must’ expresses
certainty. You’re saying ‘I’m sure it’s late,
because it’s dark outside.’ In the second sentence, ‘must’ expresses
strong advice. Most English learners will first learn ‘must’
to express obligation, in sentences like ‘Employees must keep records of all expenses.’ Often, they’ll think about ‘must’ by
translating it into their language. Then, when they see the word ‘must’, they
think about the verb in their language. If you do this, you might think that other
meanings of ‘must’ are somehow connected to the idea of obligation, or whatever you
learned first. But, there’s no connection. It’s just coincidence that you use the word
‘must’ in these three sentences. The meaning is completely different in each
case. There’s no connection except that the word
is the same. Now, let’s look at one more thing you should
know about modal verbs. What time are we supposed to be there? Ten, I think, but I think we ought to aim
to arrive at least fifteen minutes before. So, that means we have to leave here at…
what? Nine? We’d better leave earlier, I think. There’s a metro strike tomorrow, so the
traffic will be terrible. Are we going to drive, or take a taxi? I’m not sure we’ll be able to find a taxi,
so I think driving is best. In the dialogue, you heard several examples
of semi-modal verbs. Do you know what these are? Here are the sentences you heard. So, what are semi-modal verbs? Semi-modals have some of the features of modal
verbs, but not all. Most importantly, semi-modal verbs do the
same thing as modal verbs. They add information to other verbs. They can express many of the same ideas, like
obligation or giving advice. They don’t follow all the grammar rules
of regular modal verbs. For example, ‘have to’ is a semi-modal,
and you can use it in different tenses: it has a past tense, ‘had to’; you can use
it in the present perfect, ‘I have had to…’ and so on. Often, modals and semi-modals can be used
with the same meaning. Look at two sentences: ‘It’ll rain this
afternoon.’ ‘It’s going to rain this afternoon.’ Here, you use ‘going to’, which is a semi-modal,
to express certainty, in the same way that you can use ‘will’. It doesn’t matter which verb you use in
this case. However, in some cases, semi-modal verbs have
their own specific meaning. For example, ‘supposed to’ is similar
to ‘should’, but not the same. Look at two sentences: ‘We’re supposed
to be there at ten.’ ‘We should be there at ten.’ The basic meaning is similar, but not the
same. If you use ‘should’, you’re saying that
*you* think this is important. If you use ‘supposed to’, you mean that
*other people* think that this is important. ‘We’re supposed to be there at ten’,
suggests that someone else has told you to be there at ten, and maybe it’s not so important
to you. Maybe you’re thinking at this point: how
many semi-modal verbs are there? Can you give us a list? Not really, because it’s not entirely clear
what makes something a semi-modal verb. Many textbooks will say that ‘need’ or
‘dare’ are semi-modals, but they’re rarely used in this way in modern English. The most common semi-modals are all in the
dialogue at the beginning of this section. If you understand how to use these six semi-modals,
you are doing well! Finally, a question: which modal verb is most
difficult for you to understand and use in English? Why do you think that is? Please share your thoughts in the comments! Thanks for watching! See you next time!

Danny Hutson

34 thoughts on “Complete Guide to English Modal Verbs – English Grammar Lesson

  1. SHOULD
    Waking up before 7am should be illegal

    WILL
    If I say first of all, Run away because I've prepared research,data,charts,and will destroy you

    COULD , WOULD
    If I could have anyone in the world it would still be you

    MIGHT
    It's never too late to be what you might have been

    CAN
    Only I can change my life, no one can do it for me

  2. Greetings from Afghanistan 🇦🇫🇦🇫🇦🇪🇦🇪
    1, We should learn English by watching your videos .
    2, I should wake up early morning, because I have a meeting.
    3, You have to focus on your study .
    4, you haven't wear uniform at the party day at school .
    5, She must give my money back that she borrowed me .
    6, Teachers mustn't shout at students.
    7, Can I have your book please ?
    8, He can play the guitar .
    9, They can't run here .
    10 , Could you tell me where is the bus stop please ?
    11, Could I have some cookies??
    12. Would you like to go shopping with me ?
    13, Would you mind if I open the windows?
    14, I might come course tomorrow.
    15, she might not pass the exam .
    16, It might rain .
    17, May I ask you a question please ?
    18, May we go home now ??
    19, Shall we go to the wedding ?
    20, I shall clean my house, because my sister is coming today.
    21, If I had enough money , I could buy a house in the UAE .

  3. Thank you for the video,it was intresting for me! You are doing very helpful work. I do not understand: Why some stupid videos have millions of wievs, at that time yuors have thousands only?

  4. Ought to, dare to, these semi model verbs Mostly uses in writing part I think but "had to" & "to be" almost i don't use in my conversation always . Given advice on this …..

  5. How many meanings “can” has!
    In my opinion, “can” is the most interesting modal verb.
    Anyway, thanks for intriguing instructions about modal verbs!

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