Important Uses Of Modal Auxiliary Verbs

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Modal auxiliary verbs play huge role in spoken English. Modal verbs like can, could, may, might are used in various ways with different meanings. In today’s lesson, we discuss different uses of the modal verbs.

Uses of Modal Verb Can :  

One can use this modal verb to show someone’s ability or whether or not someone is able to do something. Remember that the modal verb ‘Can’ is mainly used in casual and informal communication. See the following examples :


a. I think you can do the work. (meaning you have the ability to do that).

See the dialogue below :
A : Who do you think can do the work?
B : I think Karim can that.
A : What about Md. Kabir Abed?
B : I do not think he can (do the work).


Look at other examples also :
A : Can you speak English?
B : No, I can’t. But my daughter can speak English.
A : Really, can she? Can she swim as well?
B : No, she can’t.

To ask for permission or approval to do something or to take action, one can use this modal verb also. Look at the dialogue below :


A : I am feeling very hot here in this room. Can I use the AC?
B : No, you can’t as the AC is not working. (means it’s out of order)
A : Oh, really! that’s very sad. Well, can I leave now?
B : Of course, You can.


See the following examples also :
a. Can I use your phone as mine is out of order?
b. Can I take your car to the airport as nowadays it’s getting tough to get rented vehicle?

To make requests or suggestions, one can also use the modal verb ‘Can’. See the sentences below :


a. Why can’t take one day leave from office as you are feeling bad? (making suggestion).
b. Can you take me to the office by your car? (making request).
c. Can I have the receipt of the payment please? (making request).
d. You can do whatever you like.

Uses of Could (past form of Can)  : You can use ‘Could’ to show that someone had an ability in the past. See the examples :


a. He could swim when he was young.
b. I could walk several miles as a young boy.
c. Karim could speak English very well as a university student (when he was a university student).


You can use ‘Could’ to express permission or ask for permission politely. See the brief dialogue below :
A : Could I take your umbrella as it is raining outside? (asking for permission politely)
B : Yes, you could.
A : Thanks.


Look at the other examples :
a. Could I use your pen please?
b. Could I get you more water?


To express possibility, you can also use ‘Could’. look at the sentences below :

a. I think he could do the work as it’s not that much tough. (meaning he has the potential to do the work, but not sure about that).
b. I think the bus could accommodate all of us. (there is a possibility of that).
c. I think you could do this work. (meaning he might have the ability to do it but not sure).
d. He could come today to visit us. (meaning possibility of his visit).

Different use of May :

Like can, modal verb ‘may’ is also used to ask for permission or approval to do something. It can also mean ‘be allowed to’. But remember may is more formal than can. That means may is basically used in formal communication. Look at the following brief dialogue :


Boss : Who is knocking at the door?
An employee : Sir, this is karim from HR department. May I come in sir? (asking for permission)
Boss : Yes, you may. (giving permission)
An employee : How are you, sir?
Boss : Fine. Well, what is that in your hand?
An employee : Oh! Sir, this is a leave application of 5 days. I need to go home on urgent basis as my mother is ill. So I am asking for a leave.
Boss : why not? Give me the application. You may go now.
An employee : Thank you, sir. Well, may I bring something for you from village?
Boss : Oh! That would be fine. You may bring some vegetables and milk from your village as it’s been tough to find fresh food in the capital. See the other examples also :
A : May I ask one question?
B : Yes, you may.
c. You may take whatever you like. (here may means be allowed to)
d. You may stay at my home as many days as you want. Ok

To express possibility, one can use ‘may’ also like could. But remember may is more stronger than could. So when may is used, the possibility of something happening is more likely. Look at the examples below :


a. The sky is cloudy. It may rain tonight. (there’s a strong possibility of rain) . it could rain today (here could means the possibility of rain is very low)
b. This idea is unique and cost effective. It may be approved by the authority. (there’s a possibility)

Uses of Might (past form of may) :

To express possibility, the modal ‘might’ can also be used. But note that might is lighter than may or it can be said that may is stronger than both might and could. In other words, both might and could carry the same weight. So you have to be careful in using them. Also note that in American English might is more common than may. Look at the sentence below :


a. My friend Mithila might come next week to visit us.
b. The sky is cloudy. It might rain today (possibility of rain is very low)
c. What he said might be true.
A brief conversation between two friends :
A : Hi! How are you, Karim? (talking over the phone)
B : fine. Thanks. Well, are you coming to visit us this week?
A : I might come. Well, what about your final exam?
B : It might start next week. I am taking preparation in full swing.

To get the differences between may, might and could, see the following examples carefully :


a. The meeting may be cancelled due to bad weather. (possibility of it is very high)
b. The meeting might be cancelled due to bad weather. (meaning possibility of it is very low)
c. The meeting could be cancelled due to bad weather. (meaning possibility of it is also very low)

Uses of Modal Verb ‘Must’ :

The modal verb ‘must’ is mainly used to express that something is formally required or necessary or mandatory. look at the examples below :


a. You must complete the project by this week.
b. You must call your teacher that he doesn’t come today.
c. You must get at least 33 marks to pass the exam.
d. We must take care of our elder parents.
e. You must answer the question right away.


The modal auxiliary ‘Must’ also be used to show that something is very likely (that something may happen or the possibility of it very much high). See the examples :


a. It must be raining today. (meaning the possibility of rain is very high)
b. He must be joining us to the picnic.
c. Your son must be a genius.
d. I think he must be joking with you. so do not take it seriously. ok
e. The driver is pulling the bus very roughly. There must be an accident.

Note : English is not a difficult language. If you want to learn the language effectively and properly, then there is no alternative to regular practice. As we put up regular contents on various aspects of English Language, so keep browsing us!

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