modals Auxiliars

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On this magazine you will find the feedback you need about grammar of modals auxiliars and how to use them in several situations. I hope you enjoy it!


Modals verbs are a class of auxiliary verbs. Modal verbs are also called modal auxiliaries or simply manners. There are ten English modal verbs:cancould




mustought to

In English, the main verb is always in infinitive without to, except the modal ought.1. In a statement, the word order is subject + modal + main verb.sujetomodalverbo principal



1. In questions, word order is subject + modal + main verbsmodalsujetoverbo principal



Informative questions (wh-questions)WhenCundocanpuedentheycome?venir?


Modals, Auxiliaries

be, have and do can be auxiliaries und full verbs.

Modals are: can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would and need (need can be a full verb, too).


1)Do not use modals for things which happen definitely.The sun rises in the East.

2)They do not have an -s in the 3rd person singular.He can play football.

3)Questions are formed without do/does/did.Can he speak Spanish?

4)It follows a full verb in the infinitive.They must read the book.

5)There are no past forms (except could and would).He was allowed to watch the film.

6)When you use the past particple, you tell about things which did not happen in the past.You should have told me.

Shall, will and forms of have, do and be combine with main verbs to indicate time and voice. As auxiliaries, the verbs be, have and do can change form to indicate changes in subject and time.

I shall go now.

He had won the election.

They did write that novel together.

I am going now.

He was winning the election.

They have been writing that novel for a long time.

Uses of Shall and Will and ShouldIn England, shall is used to express the simple future for first person I and we, as in "Shall we meet by the river?" Will would be used in the simple future for all other persons. Using will in the first person would express determination on the part of the speaker, as in "We will finish this project by tonight, by golly!" Using shall in second and third persons would indicate some kind of promise about the subject, as in "This shall be revealed to you in good time." This usage is certainly acceptable in the U.S., although shall is used far less frequently. The distinction between the two is often obscured by the contraction 'll, which is the same for both verbs.

In the United States, we seldom use shall for anything other than polite questions (suggesting an element of permission) in the first-person:

"Shall we go now?"

"Shall I call a doctor for you?"

(In the second sentence, many writers would use should instead, although should is somewhat more tentative than shall.) In the U.S., to express the future tense, the verb will is used in all other cases.

Shall is often used in formal situations (legal or legalistic documents, minutes to meetings, etc.) to express obligation, even with third-person and second-person constructions:

The board of directors shall be responsible for payment to stockholders.

The college president shall report financial shortfalls to the executive director each semester."

Should is usually replaced, nowadays, by would. It is still used, however, to mean "ought to" as in

You really shouldn't do that.

If you think that was amazing, you should have seen it last night.

In British English and very formal American English, one is apt to hear or read should with the first-person pronouns in expressions of liking such as "I should prefer iced tea" and in tentative expressions of opinion such as

I should imagine they'll vote Conservative.

I should have thought so.

1.Their Forms:

They help verbs. They express a wide range of meanings:

Ability, possibility, permission, necessity Most of the

modals have more than one meaning.

Can could may might should would had better

will must, Have to ought to have got to.

The simple form of the verb follows all of them.


She should work harder.

I have got to travel this summer.

She has to do her homework herself.

Would you speak more slowly please?

You had better see him after your conflict.

Shouldnt you save a little money for a rainy day?

You must not wait like this!

May I have this pen to write down some words?

Youd better not come late!2. Expressing Ability: Can - Could:

Can expresses ability in the present or future.

Can = is able to (present)

= Will be able (future)

The negative of can is: Cant = cannot = can not

The past form of can is could. Its negative is couldnt = could not.

Could express the ability in the past.

Could = was able (past)


I can buy a screwdriver at a hardware store. But I cannot use it. (Present)

She could speak English, but she couldnt write it. (Past)

3. Giving permission: can, May

May is usually used in formal situations, can is used in

informal situation.


You may borrow my car when you come.

Can I borrow your book?

4. Asking polite questions:

May I, could, Can I, Might I? : I is the subject

We use those modals to ask polite questions. The questions ask for

someones permission.

May I is more formal than could I. Please is often included

in questions.

Might I is less frequently used. But it has the same meaning

and usage as may I and could I.

Can I is sometimes used informally to request permission,

especially if the speaker is talking to someone fairly well known.

Would You, Will You, Can You, Could You? : You is the subject

The meaning of would you and will you in a polite question are the same. But would

You is more common and polite than will you. However, the degree of politeness is

determined by the speakers tone of voice.

Would you and could you have the same meaning. The difference is slight:

Would you = do you want to do this please?

Could you = do you want to do this please, and is it possible for you to do this?

Can you is sometimes informal.

Typical responses:

Yes, Id be happy to.

Yes Id be glad to.


Sure. (Informal)

Do not use May you. Or Might you? (For a polite question)

4.3. Would you mind

4.3.1. Asking permission


Would you mind if I close the door? (Informal spoken English)

Would you mind if I closed the door? (Formal)

Would you mind if I is followed by the simple past.

The meaning of the question is:

May I close the door?

Is it all right if I close the door?

Will it cause you any trouble or discomfort if I close the door?

Typical responses:


No at all.

Unh-unh = No.

Asking somebody else to do something

Would you mind closing the door?

"Would you mind if`" I is followed by a gerund.

The meaning is:

I dont want to cause you any trouble, but would

You please close the door?

Would that cause you any inconvenience?

Typical responses:

No, Id be happy to

No at all, Id be glad to.

Unh-unh = No.5. Expressing advice (advisability): Should, had better, and ought to:

They mean: This is a good idea. This is good advice.

The negative forms are: shouldnt had better not.

Ought to doesnt have the negative form.Should and ought to have the same meaning.

Had better is close to should and ought to. But had better is stronger.Basically, had better means: This is a very good idea.

Often, had better implies a warning or a threat of possible bad consequences.Had, here, is not the past of have. Its used as part of an idiom.

It is used in the present and the future as well.

Ought to = otta

Sometimes in speaking, had is dropped:


You better stay home.

You should stay to listen.

You need your sleep. You shouldnt stay up late.

What should I do now?

I had better stay home.

She had better not smoke.

Shed better save extra money.

He ought to come in time.

Should have + -ed (past participle) (Not: should + present perfect)

6. The past form of should:


He should have waited a little bit.

She should not have wasted all this time.

The past form of ought to is ought to have + -ed

Had better has no past form.

In conversational:

Should have = shoudve or shouda

Should have not = shoudntve = shoudnta

7. Expressing necessity: Have to, have got to, must:

Have is a verb which may be conjugated.

Must means that something is very necessary. There is no

other choice. Its a strong word.

Have got to is informal.

Have to = hafta

Has to = hasta

Got to = gotta