Modal Verbs: use and examples – English, A2


Don’t have to/ Must not. The first refers to an absence of obligation. The second refers to an obligation not to do something.

You don’t have to work tomorrow.

You must not leave the room before the end of the test.

  • expresses possibility or uncertainty: This could be the house.
  • expresses possibility or impossibility (with comparative adjectives): The situation couldn’t be worse.
  • is used to make suggestions: We could go to that new restaurant opposite the cinema.
  • is used to express unwillingness: I couldn’t possibly leave Tim here on his own.


  •  is used to make criticism (with “be”): You can be really annoying, you know!
  • is used to refer capability (with “be”): Winter here can be really cold.

Must and can’t

  • refers to present time only. It expresses certainty: This must be our bus/ This can’t be our room.

May and Might

  • can be used to express “although” clauses: She may be the boss, but that is no excuse for shouting like that.
  • describe the only thing left to do, something which the speaker is not enthusiastic about (+ “as well”): Nobody else is going to turn up now for the new lesson, so you may as well go home.
  • express possibility or uncertainty: The peace conference may find a solution to the problem.


  • used with all the persons to emphasize something which the speaker feels is certain to happen or wants to happen: I shall definitely give up smoking this year.
  • is used in formal rules and regulations: No player shall knowingly pick up or move the ball of another player.


  • It expresses an assumption: The phone’s ringing. That’ll be for me.
  • Used to tell emphatically to tell someone of the speaker’s intention, or to forbid an action, in response to a “will” expression: I’ll take the money anyway! / You won’t!


  • Refers to an annoying habit, typical of a person: Jack would get lost, wouldn’t he! It’s typical!
  • Expresses certainty: Nobody would agree with that idea. (if we asked them)
  • After “be” followed by adjectives doubtful, unlikely: It’s unlikely that Jim would do something like that.


  • “Need to” is not a modal auxiliary, and behaves like a normal verb: Do you need to use the photocopier?
  • It is a modal auxiliary mainly in question and negative forms: Need you make so much noise?



Ex. 1: Choose the most suitable verb:

a).    I don’t think you could / should tell anyone yet.

b).   I couldn’t / shouldn’t possibly leave without paying.

c).   That mustn’t / can’t be the hotel Jane told us about.

d).   There are times when the traffic here can / could be really heavy.

e).   We are enjoying our holiday, though the weather could / must be better.

f).   You couldn’t / shouldn’t really be sitting here.

g).   You could / may be older than me, but that doesn’t mean you’re cleverer.

h).   I might / should suppose your job is rather difficult.

i).   I’m afraid that nobody should / would help me in that kind of situation.

j).   No member of the association must / shall remove official documents from these premises without written permission.

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