Modals and Auxiliaries - English Grammar Verbal Notes | EduRev

Verbal Aptitude

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Modals and Auxiliaries 

Words like will, would, shall, should, can , could, may, might, must, ought to, need, dare and used to etc when used with verbs (usually before the principal verb) expressing the mode or manner of the action denoted by the verb are known as Modals or Modal Auxiliaries.

Modals use such ideas as ability or capacity, probability or possibility, permission, command, compulsion, duty, obligation, propriety etc.

  • He should come and see his boss.
  • He could come and see his boss tomorrow too.

In the above examples words in bold represents modal

In most of the cases modals indicate present or future time however sometime they also represent past times.

Uses of Modals: 

Will is used:  

1.To express the Pure Future with second and third person (you, he, she, it, they):

  • You will die of hunger.
  • The Chief Minister will lay the foundation stone.

2.To express willingness, intention, promise, determination with the first person (I, we):

  • I will write to you again.        (promise)
  • I will help you.                      (willingness/ intention)
  • They will fight to the finish.    (determination)

3.To express a characteristic habit, assumption, invitation or request and insistence.

  • A dog is usually obey his master.    (characteristic habit)
  • He will be there by now.                 (assumption)
  • Will you dance with me.                  (request)
  • He will not listen to the doctor’s advice.    (insistence)

Important: will is never used with the first person in the Interrogative.

Shall is used:

1. To express Pure Future with the first person (I, we). 

  • We shall learn this lesson next week.
  • I shall help you.

2. To ask for advice, suggestion, request etc. with the first person (I,we) in the Interrogative:

  • Shall I bring  a cup of coffee for you?                        (request)
  • Shall I open the door?                                              (advice)
  • Shall we meet tomorrow?                                         (suggestion)

3. To express command, threat, warning, promise, determination etc. with the second and third persons. (you, he, she, they etc.)

  • You shall do it.                                                      (command)
  • He shall be punished if he repeats this mistake.       (threat)
  • She shall have a reward.                                       (promise)
  • They shall defend their honor.                                (determination)

Important: when is doubt, use will.

Would (past form of will) is used):

1. To express a habit.

  • He would rise early in the morning and go for a walk.
  • he would sit for hours reading this book.

2To express a polite request.

  • Would you open the door, please?
  • Would you mind standing here?

3. To express a wish, preference.

  • I wish you would come with us.
  • Would that (I wish) he were here.
  • I would rather have a coffee than milk.
  • I would like to come with you.  

4. To express an imaginary condition.

  • I would do it, if I were allowed.
  • I would buy a bike if I won a lottery.

Should (past form of shall) is used:  

1. To express duty/ obligation or advisability or desirability:

  • We should obey our parents.                      (duty)
  • You should not be late.                               (obligation/ desirability)
  • You should go for a walk.                            (advisability)

Important: should often implies a mild suggestion or advice. It is milder form of must and ought to.      To express logical inference, supposition, assumption, possibility/ probability:

  • They should be at home now.                                    (possibility)
  • If he should see me there, he will be sad.      (probable condition)

2. To express purpose after ‘lest’ (in expression of fear).

  • Work hard, lest you should fail.
  • They hired a taxi lest they should miss the train.

May is used:  

1. To express possibility:

  • Rashi may come today.
  • It may rain today.

2. To express permission:

  • You may go now.
  • May I come in, Sir?

3. To express wish, faith, hope:

  • May God succeed!May God bless you! 

4. To express a purpose:

  • She is working hard so that she may win a scholarship.

Might (past form of may) is used:  

1.To express less possibility:

  • She might come today.
  • It might rain tonight.

2.To express permission:

  • Might I start the discussion?

3.To express guess:

  • That might be the postman. 

 Can is used: 

1. To express permission:

  • You can borrow my car.
  • They can stay here as long as they wishes.
  • Can I smoke here.

2. To express possibility:

  • This can be true.
  • Anyone can make mistakes.

3. To express ability or capacity:

  • I can lift this bag.
  • he can keep awake the whole night.

Remember: -Can never indicates past time.
In the sense of ability, the past and the future tense forms are was/were able to and shall/will be able to

  • He was not able to cross the road.                      (past)
  • I hope I shall be able to solve this problem.        (future)           

Could (past form of can) is used:
1. To express ability/ capacity in the past:

  • She could dance very well in the youth.
  • I could give him an answer if he had asked me.

2. To express a polite request:

  • Could I borrow your pen?
  • Could you wait for some time?

3. To express possibility under certain conditions:

  • If we had money, we could buy a car.
  • It could not be true.

Must is used:  

1. To express obligation or duty:

  • You must do as you are told.
  • Soldiers must obey the orders of their officers.
  • In this sense its negative is must not (mustn’t).
  • We must not tell lies.

2. To express necessity or compulsion:

  • You must go now.
  • The letter must be written today.
  • She must obey my orders.
  • Its negative is need not (needn’t)
  • I needn’t go now.
  • He needn’t go to a doctor.

3. To express emphatic advice or determination:

  • You must see a doctor at once.
  • You must not leave before you finish your breakfast.

4. To express assumption, conclusion/ inference, certainty/ strong probability:

  • The Headmaster must be in his office at this time.
  • She must be twenty one.
  • He must have reached by now. 
  • Must is not used in the Negative or Interrogative in this sense. Instead, can is used.
  • The Headmaster cannot be in his office at this time.
  • Can she be twenty one?


Need (modal auxiliary) is used: 

1.Chiefly to show absence of necessity or compulsion in the negative or interrogative.

  • The negative is formed by need not and the interrogative by inversion.
  • He need not go to the station soon.
  • You need not pay the bill.
  • Need I speak to  him.

It does not take‘s’ in the third person singular present tense. Its past is had to in the affirmative,need not have in the negative and need have in the interrogative.

  • You need not have wasted your time in this useless activity.
  • Need I have to see my doctor?


Ought (always followed by a to infinitive) is used:

1. To express the subject’s obligation or duty:

  • We ought to love our country.
  • We ought not to deceive anyone.

there is no external authority in ought as there is in must which expresses the speaker’s authority.
Must compels action on the part of the subject.
Ought expresses duty, inner conscience, a sensible action or advice. It has the same sense as should

2.To give advice:

  • You ought to practice for more than three hours.
  • It is less forceful than must.

Note the difference:

  • you must practice for three hours daily.       (speaker’s authority)
  • I have to practice for two hours daily.           (compulsion/ external authority)
  • I ought to practice for three hours daily.       (matter of conscience/ good sense)
  • you ought practice for three hours daily.      (advice)



Could                         +  have refer to past



Ought to

Dare (modal auxiliary) means ‘to have courage’. It is generally used in the negative and interrogative. The negative is formed by dare not and the interrogative by inversion. It does not take‘s’ in the third person singular present tense.

  • I dare not go to my mother.
  •  How dare you do this?
  • Dare we interrupt them?

Both dare and need can be used as main verbs. Then they take ‘s’ in the third person singular present tense. They form their negative and interrogative with do and are followed by ‘to infinitive

  • She often dares her husband.                        (challenge/ defy)
  • He doesn’t dare to disobey me.
  • Do you need to go there?
  • They needed rest.

Used (to) is used:

1. To express past habit:

  • I used to go for a walk every morning. ( I don’t go now)
  • I used to play hockey in my young age. ( I don’t play now)

2.To express the existence of something in the past:

  • There used to be a garden in this place long ago.
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