How to use Modal Verbs in English

Many of my students get confused about how to use Modal Verbs, the form of modal verbs, when to use modal verbs and the meaning of modal verbs.

Well, in this article I’m going to discuss about how to use modal verbs easily and effectively.

How to use Modal Verbs in English:

Modal Verbs are very wide and have many different functions. We use them to talk about permission, possibility, deduction, obligation and many others, but in this lesson I’m going to focus on how we use modal verbs to talk about ability.

To express ability in English, we must use these modal verbs can, can’t, could, couldn’t, and it’s very important to know that modal verbs never appear alone. They are auxiliary verbs accompanying a main verb, and that main verb is the important verb in the sentence

For examples:

  • I can play very well.
  • She can’t cook chilli chicken.
  • They could dance salsa.
  • You couldn’t run as fast as me.

Sing, cook, dance and run are the main verbs and they use the very infinitive. can.

Present: Can/can’t :

Can and can’t are the model verbs we use to talk about ability in the present. When we want to say that we have a particular skill or even a talent, and then it’s possible for us to do something, we use can.

For examples:

  • I can play football.
  • I can speak different languages.
  • He can play the guiter.
  • They can run very fast.

You can see, we use the same form. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, I, she, they, because model verbs and this applies to all of them, don’t change form, we always use the same.

To indicate that we don’t have an ability or a skill and therefore we are not able to do something. We use the model verb can in the negative, which is can’t.

For examples:

  • I can speak different languages but I can’t speak Spanish.
  • He can play the guiter but he can’t play the piano.
  • I can play football but I can’t play volleyball.
  • They can run very fast, but they can’t jump very high.

Past: could/couldn’t:

To talk about an ability or skill in the past, we use the mobile verb could.

For Example:

  • He could speak English languages.
  • How could you do this?
  • My brother could draw when he was six years old.

To say that we were not able to do something in the past because we didn’t have that ability, we use could in the negative, which is couldn’t.

For Examples:

  • He could speak English languages, but he couldn’t speak Japanese.
  • My brother could draw when he was six years old, but he couldn’t write.
  • My brother could ride a bike, but he couldn’t ride a car.

All the tenses: be able to:

What happens if we want to talk about ability in any verb tense, not only in the present, past and future or any perfect tense, to do that we can use an equivalent phrase, and this equivalent phrase is be able to.

When we use the expression be able to, we need to conjugate the verb to be to create the verb tense that we would like to use.

For example:

  • You will be able to speak in Japanese very well.
  • I have been able to solve the problem.
  • They were able to dance all night long.

And for the negative let’s conjugate the verb to be in the negative form.

For example:

  • You won’t be able to speak in English very well soon.
  • I haven’t been able to solve the problem,
  • They were not able to dance all night long.

So today’s lesson has been about the How to use Modal Verbs. I hope you understand, if you have any problem about this article you can comment below.

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