Modal Verbs

Modals in fact belong to verbs or auxiliary verbs though they do not do any action. Modals, in plain words, are words that indicate the intensity of command, request, permission, sense of obligation, etc.

The most common modals are can, could, may, might, should, would, must, ought to, dare, need.

Below is a classification of situations under which we use a modal. Study carefully.

Request – May (100%), Could (60%), Can (10%)
  • May I enter the class? (Between servant and his master. High respect)
  • Could I have a glass of water, please? (Between two strangers. Medium respect)
  • Can I use your pen? (Between friends. No respect but friendship)

In the three instances above you can see three people making three requests to three different people. While may is an expression of high respect and awe, could is less and can is more like a friendly gesture.

Possibility – Will (100%) may (50%) might (40%) can (35%) ought to (10%) will not (0%)
  • It will rail today.
  • It may rain today.
  • It can rain today.
  • It might rain today.
  • It ought to rain today.
Ability – Can (100%) could (100% Past)
  • I could swim across this river. (In the past)
  • I can swim across this river. (in the present)
  • I could have tried. (But I didn’t try)
Permissions – May (happily), Can (dissatisfied)
  • You can go now.
  • No respect.
  • You may go now.
  • Medium respect
Orders – Must (100% Serious order) Shall (90%, Moderate) Should (85%, Mild)
  • You should obey the rules.
  • Ram shall leave the kingdom at once.
  • You must not drink the poison.
Advice – Ought to (50% – 30%) Need (20%, optional)
  • You needn’t wait. Just go on.
  • You ought to respect your elders. – Moral duty to God, elders, teachers, parents, etc.
Obligation/Responsibility – Should, Ought to
  • You ought to help beggars.
  • We should not forget our duties.
  • We should not refuse anyone’s request.
  • We should not break anyone’s heart.
  • We should not destroy public property.
Suggestion – Shall, should, Ought to
  • I think we should not delay.
  • We should not cross the river right now.
  • We ought to help that man.
Wish/prayer – May
  • May God bless you.
  • May you be successful.
  • I will go for your sake.

Questions : Can – could – may – might – ought to – should – must – need

  1. ___ you lend me your pen, please? (Request)
  2. He ___ have helped me if he really wanted. (Ability)
  3. We ____ to help the poor and the needy. (Advise)
  4. Haven’t I told you that Sam ___ come any time? See, he is coming! (Possibility)
  5. ___ I follow these traffic instructions? In fact I am new to Dubai. (Obligation)
  6. I ___ have known his name. Isn’t he my old friend! (Obligation)
  7. You ___ not worry about your studies. I am with you. (Command/consolation)
  8. __ I fetch you some water, grandma? (Suggestion)
  9. Gentleman, ___ I offer you a lift to London? I am also heading to London. ( Suggestion)
  10. ___ we move to the next railway station, friends? It is getting late. (Suggestion)


  1. Could
  2. Could
  3. Ought to
  4. Could
  5. Should
  6. Should
  7. Need
  8. May
  9. Should
  10. Shall


  1. It __ rain here any moment and the match ___ be cancelled. (Possibility)
  2. She ___ not have forgotten this day. (Obligation/responsibility)
  3. There is no use you stay here. You __ go if you wish. (Order)
  4. Lord, I know how dangerous it is to jump across this ferry yet I __ go for your sake. (Wish/determination)
  5. ___ I die, I will die for your majesty.
  6. Your mom has asked me to ask you to stop taking drugs. You ____ stop this habit, Pete.
  7. This ___ take her another year to read this book. She is such a slow reader.
  8. If I said that Bachchan had once been a driver, I ___ have been drunk.
  9. She loves to travel in economy flights because she believes that she ________ save a lot of money.
  10. I ___ not have invited that family of idiots! See how go their table manners!!
Complete the Instructions using appropriate Modal Verbs (Must, should, need, ought to)
  1. You ………. not place your feet on the seat.
  2. Passengers …….. not cross the yellow line while waiting for the train.
  3. Male passengers ……… not board coaches reserved for female passengers.
  4. ………. not spit in the railway premises.
  5. Passengers ………… vacate their seats for pregnant women and people who carry babies.
  6. Students who have a season pass ………. not get an entry pass everyday.
  7. While in a library, students ……….. not use their mobile phones for whatsoever reasons.

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8.11 CBSE – Small Business

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