In English grammar, verbs are the basic part that helps us describe an action or a condition of someone or something. In fact, every sentence must have a verb to convey a thought and be complete in itself.
Verbs are divided into various parts. One such part that acts as secondary verbs and helps the main verb in a sentence is called helping verbs. And the topic we are discussing in this post, modal verbs, is a unit of helping verbs. So, modal verbs also act as secondary verbs and help or modify the main verb in a sentence.
But, how do they modify a verb? What purpose do they hold? To know the answers, let us discuss below with proper explanations.
What are modal verbs?
By definition, modal verbs are a type of auxiliary or helping verbs that help modify the main verb in a sentence. They are mainly used to express the possibility, necessity, or obligation of the main verb. Now it is clear that modal verbs mostly work as secondary verbs, and they must work with a main verb to make sense.
In short, they are the words that precede the main verb in a sentence. Some basic model verbs are can, may, must, ought to, could, might, should, would, shall, and will. These are all used with the main verb to describe its conditions. They are also commonly used to ask for permission, make requests, or provide any offer.
Let us look at some sentences to know them better.
- You must study hard for this exam.
- It might be sunny tomorrow.
- You can perform today in the assembly.
- May I go to the washroom?
- You should take care of yourself.
As we see, the verbs marked in bold are the modal verbs. Without the main verbs that describe an action, modal verbs would have no meaning or little meaning on their own. They are solely present to modify the main verb.
Usage of modal verbs
We have learned that modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that modify the main verbs. Now, let us understand how some of the basic modal verbs act and function in a sentence.
Ways of using a modal verb
To describe the possibility or ability of the main verb. Here, we use verbs like may, might, can, etc.
- It may rain today. (Possibility)
- I can lift this box. (Ability)
To request or seek permission. For this, we use verbs like may, could, can, etc.
- May I come in?
- Could you grant me leave?
To describe obligations. Here, we use the verb must. But we also make use of other verbs like should or ought to when the obligations are milder.
- You must start exercising.
- You should take a break.
- You ought to write faster.
Also, it is important to note that when we use a modal verb that precedes the main verb, only the root form of the verb is to be used. It means the infinitive form that includes to should not appear. Unless it is an original modal verb such as ought to.
- You can come in. (Correct)
- You can to come in. (Wrong)
So, as we can see, modal verbs are very commonly used words in a sentence. These verbs may be secondary, but they play an equally important role.