Modal auxiliary verbs

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An auxiliary verb is one which helps other verbs to make tenses, passive forms etc. There are two groups - primary auxiliaries and modal auxiliaries.

Modal auxiliaries

The verbs will, would, shall, should, can, could, may, might, must, ought, dare and need are usually called modal auxiliaries. They are used with other verbs to express actions, events or situations that exist only as conceptions of the mind - permissions, possibilities, certainty, ability, wishes, obligations etc. They may also express simple futurity.

Modal auxiliaries have three common characteristics.

1. They are never used alone. A principal verb is either present or implied.

2. Modal auxiliaries have no -s in the third person singular.

3. Modal auxiliaries do not have infinitives (to may, to shall etc.) or participles (maying, shalling, shalled etc.). You cannot say to shall, to must or to may.

Sections in this article

Modal Auxiliary Verbs
Can
May and Can: differences
Could
May
Might
Will
Would
Shall
Should
Should: other uses
Must
Must: uses
Must and have to: The Difference
Ought to
Need
Had better
Should, Ought and Must: The difference