Understanding Modal Verbs in English: Context, Usage, and Practice Questions

Modal verbs are a unique and essential aspect of the English language. They help express various ideas such as probability, ability, obligation, permission, and habits. In this article, we will delve into the different modal verbs, and their usage, and provide practice questions to test your understanding.

Modal Verbs:

The list of modal verbs in English includes:

  1. can
  2. could
  3. may
  4. might
  5. will
  6. would
  7. must
  8. shall
  9. should
  10. ought to

These verbs differ from normal verbs in three ways:

  1. They don’t use an ‘s’ for the third person singular.
  2. They make questions by inversion (e.g., ‘she can go’ becomes ‘can she go?’).
  3. They are followed directly by the infinitive of another verb (without ‘to’).

Context and Usage:

Modal verbs have various applications in English, such as expressing probability, ability, obligation, permission, and habits.


Modal verbs can indicate the likelihood of an event occurring. 

Examples include:

It’s snowing, so it must be very cold outside.

I don’t know where John is. He could have missed the train.

This bill can’t be right. £200 for two cups of coffee!


We use ‘can’ and ‘could’ to describe skills or abilities. 

Examples include:

She can speak six languages.

My grandfather could play golf very well.

I can’t drive.

Obligation and Advice:

Modal verbs like ‘must’ or ‘should’ can express necessity or give advice. 

Examples include:

Children must do their homework.

We have to wear a uniform at work.

You should stop smoking.


We use ‘can’, ‘could’, and ‘may’ to ask for and grant permission or to express prohibition. Examples include:

Could I leave early today, please?

You may not use the car tonight.

Can we swim in the lake?


‘Will’ and ‘would’ can describe habits or customary actions. 

Examples include:

When I lived in Italy, we would often eat in the restaurant next to my flat.

John will always be late!

Past Modals:

Past modals such as ‘could have + past participle’, ‘should have + past participle’, and ‘would have + past participle’ can be confusing. 

For example:

She could have studied harder.

We should have left earlier.

I would have called you if I had known.

Practice Questions:

  1. You ________ speak louder; I can’t hear you.
  2. He ________ be tired after such a long flight.
  3. ________ you help me with this math problem?
  4. She ________ be the new manager; she just started working here.
  5. If I had more time, I ________ learn how to play the guitar.
  6. You ________ not park here; it’s a no-parking zone.
  7. They ________ have left early to avoid traffic.
  8. ________ I have another piece of cake, please?
  9. When I was a child, I ________ climb trees easily.
  10. You ________ visit the doctor if you feel unwell.
  11. We ________ meet at the cafe at 5 PM.
  12. ________ you tell me the time, please?
  13. She ________ have taken a different route to avoid the traffic jam.
  14. If I knew her address, I ________ send her an invitation.
  15. You ________ not touch the artwork in the museum.
  16. ________ we go to the movies tonight?
  17. She ________ play the violin when she was in high school.
  18. You ________ submit your assignment by the deadline.
  19. He ________ be at the gym right now.
  20. ________ I have a glass of water, please?
  21. When we were kids, we ________ ride our bikes to school every day.
  22. You ________ take an umbrella with you; it looks like it might rain.
  23. I ________ believe he’s getting married next month.
  24. ________ you open the window, please?
  25. If I had known about the sale, I ________ have bought a new pair of shoes.


  1. should
  2. must
  3. Can / Could
  4. can’t
  5. would
  6. must
  7. might / could
  8. May / Can
  9. could
  10. should
  11. will
  12. Can / Could
  13. must
  14. would
  15. must / may
  16. Can / Shall
  17. could
  18. must
  19. might / could
  20. May / Can
  21. would
  22. should
  23. can’t
  24. Can / Could
  25. would have
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