Modals are used to ‘moderate’ verbs (i.e. they change the meaning). After a modal, the basic form of the verb is used.

Some Common Modals

can
could
should
may
might
must
will
would

What the Different Modals Mean

1.
a) I hear music. (fact)
b) I can hear music. (fact, or ability)
c) I should hear music. (not hearing music is unusual; I should, but I can’t)
d) I may / might hear music. (it is a possibility)
e) I must hear music. (if I don’t hear music, I won’t be happy)
f) I will hear music. (absolute truth)
g) I would hear music. (cause and effect / hypothetical)

2.
a) I pay taxes. (true)
b) I can pay taxes (ability)
c) I should pay taxes (it is the right thing to do)
d) I may / might pay taxes (I’m thinking about it)
e) I must pay my taxes (I have no choice)
f) I will pay my taxes (future)
g) I would pay my taxes (if I could)

– longer examples

1. a) Shh. Wait. I hear music.
b) Quiet. I think I can hear music. We must be close.
c) Now, if all these cables are right, and I press play, I should hear music.
d) If you stop talking, I might hear the music.
e) Everyone is talking about their new CD. I must hear it!
f) If you turn it on, I’ll hear music.
g) I would hear more music if I had a radio.

2.
a) Each April I pay my taxes.
b) I can only pay my taxes after I get paid.
c) I know I should pay my taxes, but I don’t agree with how the money is being spent.
d) I might pay taxes, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll just run away.
e) The government says I must pay my taxes.
f) I’ll pay my taxes after I get paid.
g) I would pay my taxes if I had the money, but I don’t.

Using Modals as a Way to Be Polite

Using modals make questions more polite:

(not polite)
Give me a cheeseburger!

(polite)
Can you get me a cheeseburger?
Could you get me a cheeseburger?
Would you get me a cheeseburger?

Exercises

1. Make a sentence using each of the basic modals.
2. Make polite questions using the basic modals.