Modals: How Many Are There & What Do They Mean?

How many modal verbs are there

If you’re trying to learn English in CA, chances are that, sooner or later, you’re going to have to start learning about the meaning of modal verbs and how to use modal verbs adequately in either speech or writing. 

Now, before all that, have you considered all the benefits of attending an English language school? Well, mastering the use of modals is definitely one of them! Don’t be dissuaded by the prospect of having to look for a good language school, that’s easy. Go for it, and you’ll see just how easier language learning will become. But, until you do that, we’re here to help you with modals!

How many modal verbs are there?

In the English language, there are many verbs that could be considered modal verbs, depending on their use in a sentence, as well as the properties each of them might possess would classify them as modal verbs.

However, when talking about modal verbs in general, the usual number that people talk about is nine - there are nine common modal verbs in the English language. Common here means that these modal verbs are most commonly used and that they are almost exclusively used as modal verbs.

But, to clarify matters further, we’re going to see just what qualities an auxiliary verb should possess in order to be classified as a modal verb. 

What classifies a verb as a modal verb?

Here are the properties, according to the California Department of Education, that an auxiliary verb should possess in order to be deemed a modal verb:

  • No inflection - Modal verbs have no inflection, which means that you do not add any suffixes to the modal verb. That means no “-s” or “-es”.
  • Defective use - You cannot use modal verbs as participles or infinitives.
  • Auxiliary use - You can only use modal verbs as auxiliary verbs, in order to modify the meaning of the main verb.

What do different modal verbs mean?

OK, it’s time to see what modal verbs actually mean to make it easier for you to actually use them. However, we’re not going to, nor is it possible, to explain every single verb that can be a modal verb.

Instead, we’re going to focus on the nine most common modal verbs of the English language, as mentioned before, and try to explain their meanings and how to use them correctly. 

1. CAN - You mainly use “can” to express ability and possibility, or to politely ask for permission.  

  • I can play football.
  • Can I take some money to buy lunch, mum?

2. COULD - You will mostly use “could” to ask questions even more politely than you would with “can”, but also to suggest something or talk about an ability in the past.

  • Could I go out with my friends tonight?
  • We could go skiing in a couple of days.
  • He could play football really well when he was younger.

3. MAY - “May” is the most polite of all the modal verbs. Additionally, you can use it to express probability.

  • May I go to the seaside with my friends?
  • He may be able to help you.

4. MIGHT - You use “might” to make a suggestion, but also to express possibility and probability. 

  • Might I suggest we take the cab?
  • She might go home on foot even though it’s raining.

5. MUST / MUSTN’T - Although these are technically two modal verbs, we feel that we can’t have one without the other. You mainly use “must” to express obligation or necessity, and “mustn’t” to express prohibition.

  • You must study hard in order to get into a good college. 
  • You must carry an umbrella with you if it’s raining!
  • You mustn’t be late for school!

6. SHALL - Although “shall” is seldom used in these modern times, it’s place taken over by “will”, you can still use it to express decisions about the future or offer suggestions.

  • You shall not pass!
  • I shall be a great footballer one day!
  • Shall we go out tonight?

7. WILL - “Will” mostly shares its use with “shall”, so you can use it to express decisions concerning the future, promises, predictions, or suggestions.

  • I will learn to play the guitar!
  • I will accompany you to the doctor’s.
  • It will rain. 
  • Will we take the cab back home?

8. SHOULD - You will mainly use “should” to provide advice, but also to offer recommendations, as well as to express necessity. 

  • You should definitely talk to him.
  • We should try that new restaurant. It’s got good reviews.
  • He should take an umbrella, it’s raining!

9. WOULD - You use “would” in conditional sentences, but also to express desire, as well as to extend an invitation.

  • I would go out if I had some free time.
  • I would like to buy a new car!
  • Would you like to go out with me tonight?

So, nine modal verbs for many linguistic situations. Easy to use, they sound great, and they’ll make your English a whole lot better.

“Where can I learn English better in CA?”

If you’re trying to find the perfect English language school in California to help you with your modal verbs, you’re in luck because we know the best place - College of English Language! We’re a school dedicated to using the most modern methods to teach our students all the beautiful nuances English has to offer. 

We’re here for you, and we’ll do all in our power to see you learn English. So, if you’re in need of some help, come to our school on your way to Balboa Park. We’ll help you out!