Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

2.5: Modals and Phrasal Modals

  • Page ID
    52119
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    Reading Exercises

    Read the sentences below. Identify the verb phrases. Do the sentences have the same meaning or different meanings?

    • We should put our smartphones away when we eat dinner
    • We might put our smartphones away when we eat dinner
    • We must put our smartphones away when we eat dinner

    Which words change the meaning of each sentence?

    Answers

    • Should: It is a good idea (advice)
    • Might: It is possible in the future
    • Must: It is required

    "Should," "might," and "must" are modal verbs. Examine the verb phrases again. Does the modal form change when the subject changes? What is the form of the main verb after the modal verb?

    • We should put our smartphones away when we eat dinner
    • I might put my smartphone away when we eat dinner
    • She must put her smartphone when we eat dinner

    Answers

    Modal verbs do not change form to agree with the subject. They are always followed by the base form of the main verb

    • "Should," not "shoulds"
    • "Put," not "puts" or "putting"

    Compare these sentences. Identify the verb phrases...

    • We must put our smartphones away when we eat dinner
    • We have to put our smartphones away when we eat dinner
    • She has to put her smartphone away when we eat dinner

    These sentences have the same meaning. How are the modals in the three sentences different?

    Answers

    "Have to" is a phrasal modal. It uses more than one word and changes form to agree with the subject (has to). It can also change tense (had to, will have to)

    Modals and Phrasal Modals of Ability

    • Can
    • Could
    • Be able to
    • Know how to
    Modal Present example Future example Past example
    Can, could The addiction counselor can help with smartphone addiction I can put my phone in the other room when I go to sleep tonight In the past, I could concentrate on reading for long periods, but now that I have a smartphone, I can't
    Know how to (used for a skill) Change "know" to agree with tense and subject Do you know how to use this app? After we look at this YouTube video, we will know how to turn off an app notification She didn't always know how to use a tablet
    Be able to (Change "be" to agree with tense and subject)

    ("Can" is more common in present tense)

    If you are not able to stop using screen technology, you might be addicted

    After I install this blue light filter, I will be able to sleep better at night When I was a child, I was able to remember a lot of information without my smartphone

    Modals of Future Possibility

    • Will
    • Might
    • May
    • Could

    These modals show that an event is possible in the future. "Might," "may," and "could" have similar meanings. "Will" is the most certain, but is often modified with an adverb "maybe," "perhaps," or "probably"

    • Technology will continue to dominate our lives in the future
    • We may/might/could find a way to use it with more awareness, though

    Modals of Request

    • Would
    • Could
    • Can
    • Will

    These modals are used to make a polite request

    • Would/could/can/will you turn off your phone, please?

    Modals of Suggestion, Advice, Necessity

    • Could
    • Should
    • Ought to
    • Had better
    • Must
    • Have to

    How does the meaning in the sentences below differ?

    • He could get up and go outside
    • He should get up and go outside
    • He ought to get up and go outside
    • He had better get up and go outside
    • He must get up and go outside
    • He has to get up and go outside

    Answer

    The modals above are ordered from weakest to strongest...

    • He could get up and go outside (suggestion)
    • He should get up and go outside (advice)
    • He ought to get up and go outside (advice)
    • He had better get up and go outside (warning)
    • He must get up and go outside (obligation)
    • He has to get up and go outside (obligation)

    Must Not vs. Don't Have To

    Do these sentences have the same meaning?

    • We must not spend so much time at the computer every day
    • We don't have to spend so much time at the computer every day

    Answer

    • "Must not spend" means we are not allowed to spend so much time; it is not permitted
    • "Don't have to spend" means it is not necessary to spend so much time; it is optional

    Videos and Other Resources

    Watch this video for three easy rules to avoid mistakes with modals...

    Watch this video for useful charts and information about modals...

    Watch this video for a modal review...

    Need practice writing modals? Try this website...

    Practice Using Modals

    Click on this link and watch the short video about screen addiction. Try the "think" and "explore" links. Then write a short paragraph. Use modals to explain what students can/could/should/must/have to do to prevent screen addiction...


    2.5: Modals and Phrasal Modals is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?