Modal Verbs

Learn How to Use Modal Verbs Correctly

Look at the instructions in Part 1. Then try the exercises in part 2 below.

Part 1:  Modal Verbs – Usage

Modal verbs are used to express obligation, certainty, possibility, or permission.

Modal verbs include the following: can, could, may, might, must, and should.


A general possibility: Learning a language can be difficult.

Permission: I can drive her car when she is out of town.


Suggestion: You could spend your vacation in Hawaii.

Past possibility: I could have failed the examination. I certainly hadn’t studied enough for it.

Future possibility: He could be found guilty of the crime when the police have finished their investigation.

Polite request: Could I read that book when you have finished it?


Future possibility: She may be upset if you decide to lie to her.

Permission: You may leave the table when you finish eating.


Future possibility: She might take a taxi home as the party is going to finish late.

Past possibility: I might have failed the driving test. I certainly didn’t feel prepared.


Certainty: That must have been the restaurant. It’s the only one on the street.

Necessity (for something that is necessary): You must have a valid library card to check out a book.


Obligation: You should have returned the video on time. Now we have to pay a late fee.

Strong advice: You should take some time off and get some rest.

Part 2:  Modal Verbs – Exercise

Instructions: Complete the following sentences, placing a modal verb in the space provided. Some sentences may have more than one answer.

1) You __________ have told us you weren’t coming. We waited for over an hour. OBLIGATION

2) There are several ways to get to Chicago from here. You __________ even take the train. SUGGESTION

3) Terri said she __________ / __________ / __________ be going to the picnic tomorrow. She wasn’t sure. FUTURE POSSIBILITY

4) What a terrible cough! You __________ go to the doctor. STRONG ADVICE

5) He __________ have gone out for the night. He’s not answering the phone. CERTAINTY

Modal verbs exercise – answers

1) The correct answer is should.

2) The correct answer is could.

3) The possible answers are: could, may, and might.

4) The correct answer is should.

5) The correct answer is must.

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