Modal verbs
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Modal verbs

The great German poet Goethe once said, “He, who knows no foreign language, doesn’t know his own once”.

Today English language is the language of the world. English is not only the national or official language of some thirty states that represent different cultures, but it is also the major international language of communication in such areas as science, technology, business and mass entertainment. It is also the major language of diplomacy. No doubt that we must know English very well. “Modal verbs” is a category of English grammar that represents human courtesy communicating with others. From my point of view, knowledge of this grammar is essential for everybody, because we must know how to express a polite request, willingness, determination and etc. So achieving this grammar you’ll be much more professional in English and cultured speaking with other people.



1.Can has two main uses:

a) to express permission or possibility (=may):

You can go now.

You could come later yesterday.

b) to express ability or capacity (=know how to):

I can swim very well.

Can you speak French?

He could cover the distance in an hour.

Can has two tense forms: can for the present tense and could for the past tense.

Tense Affirmative Negative Interrogative


Past I can go

I could go I can not (can’t) go

I could not (couldn’t) go Can I go?

Could I go?

Could is not only the past of can; it can be used to talk about the present and the future; it may be used to introduce polite requests:

You could be right. Could I se you tomorrow?

Could you tell me the time, please?

Could is also used in conditional sentences:

He could get the job if he wanted to

Can and could are both used with the perfect infinitive (to have + past participle). Can is only used in questions and negative sentences:

Where can she have gone?

She can’t have gone to school – it’s Sunday.

Could with the perfect infinitive is also used to talk about an unrealized past possibility: something that was possible but didn’t happen.

You were stupid to jump down the cliff – you could have broken your legs.

2.Can expressing ability has an equivalent to be able which may be used not only to talk about future but also to build up other tense forms:

Present Past Future

I can go I could go –

I am able to go I was able to go I shall be able to go

Shall be able is used talking about future ability.

He’ll be able to speak English in another few months.

If he has a good rest, he will be able to work again.


May expresses

1) permission

2) probability and possibility

3) wish

4) purpose in subordinate clauses and after wish, fear, be afraid, etc.:

You may be free. May I take the map?

It may be true. You may stay here.

May your dreams come true! I’ll write him so that he may know when to expect us.

I’m afraid the news may be true.

May has two tense forms: may for the present tense and might for the past tense.

Might is used as the past tense form of the verb may expressing permission only in subordinate clauses.

He said he might go out.

Might used in the principal clause expresses possibility – present or future. Might may introduce polite requests:

You might be more attentive.

How long might the game last?

Might I have a correction?

Tense Affirmative Negative Interrogative


Past I may go

…I might go I may not (mayn’t) go

…I might not (mightn’t) go May I go?

…might I go?

2.If the modal verb may expresses permission, its equivalents are: to be allowed, to be permitted:

Present Past Future

I may go

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