If you couldn’t get enough of our blog on English modal verbs last week, here’s another one for you! Modal verbs are a necessary and important point of any language, so we thought that it would be a point worth (good use of time, important to) focusing on.

Below you can find further modal verbs, such as shall, should, ought to, must, have to, need to, will, and would. If you’re learning English, chances are that you’ll use these verbs quite frequently. They usually work a little differently than normal verbs, so they’re worth noting! You can find our first blog on English modal verbs here.

Shall, Should, Ought to

These modal verbs essentially (in essence, basically) mean the same thing, but there are differences, even if we don’t always employ (use) them:

Shall: willingness, intention, suggestion, and insistence.

Should: obligation, necessity, expectation, and advisability.

Ought to: moral obligation, probability, certainty, advice, necessity, duty, and fitness.

All that said, shall is simply used more in British English, while should is used more in American English (for more on this, we recommend the book “That’s Not English” by Erin Moore). Ought to is thought to be a little old-fashioned, more formal, and isn’t so common in British or American English anymore.

These modals are verbs of obligation or duty. For example, you don’t have to do something, but it would be better if you did.

Statements (sentences) using these modals are formed in the following way:

Subject+ shall/should (not) /ought (not) to / + infinitive verb

For example:

  • You should talk to him about it. (Advice)
  • I should be on time tomorrow if the construction is finished. (Expectation)
  • I probably shouldn’t do this, but I want to! (Advise against)
  • We shall prevail! (Willingness, intention)
  • You ought to apologize to her. (Advice, Duty)
  • You ought to go now before it rains. (Necessity)

Questions using these modals are formed in the following way:

Shall/should (not) + subject + infinitive form of the verb

For example:

  • Shall we go out tonight? (Suggestion)
  • Should I call a doctor? You don’t look well. (Advice)
  • Shouldn’t we leave soon? It’s getting late… (Insistance)
  • Shall I get the door for you? (Willingness)
  • Shall we dance?” The King and I. (Suggestion)

Must, Have to, Need to

Must, have to, and need to are similar to shall, should, and ought to in the fact that they are also verbs of obligation, necessity, requirement, and can be used when you’re almost 100% sure of something. However, they are much stronger. Where shall and should give you the option of doing something or not, must and have to mean that you absolutely have to do something. A good example would be: You have to do your homework, or else you’ll fail the class.

Must: necessity, prohibition, compulsion, obligation, deduction, certainty, probability.

Need: necessity, obligation (used in negative and questions)

  subject +must/have to/need to + infinitive verb

For example:

  • I need to use the restroom. (Necessity)
  • You have to call them tomorrow. (Obligation)
  • Your English must be very good if you lived in London for 5 years. (Deduction, probability)

The negative form can be a little bit trickier (more complicated, harder, more complex) because where you place “not” in the sentence depends on which verb you are using.

The negative forms look like this:

must + not + infinitive verb

do(es) + not + have to + infinitive verb

do(es) + not + need to + infinitive verb

For example:

  • The dog must not (mustn’t) jump on the white sofa. (Prohibition)
  • You do not (don’t) have to wash the dishes today. (Necessity)
  • He doesn’t (does not) need to shower tonight because he did so this morning. (Obligation)

Will, Would

Will and would are verbs of consequence.

For example:

  • Will you empty the dishwasher later? I don’t have time today.

Will and would are very common (used often) modal verbs of consequence. They help to define what could happen or what definitely will happen if you do something, or help you ask for something that should be done in the future. Will and would can be used for polite requests and habitual (routine) past actions, as well as for future actions.

Will: willingness, intention, prediction, insistence

Would: willingness, habitual action in the past, probability, wish, desire

You form sentences with these two modals like this:

will/would + infinitive verb

For example:

  • Would you please email him for me? I don’t have time today. (Polite request)
  • Will you please clean your room? (Insistence)
  • When we were younger, we would play outside until it was dark. (Habitual action in the past)
  • I will answer your question when I have more information. (Intention, insistence)

The negative form is quite easy when it comes to will and would. It’s formed (made, built) like many other modal negative forms:

will + not (will+not = won’t!) + infinitive verb

would + not (wouldn’t) + infinitive verb

Here are some examples:

  • I wouldn’t do that if I were you! (Conditional 2- insistence)
  • I will not (won’t) be able to play the piano tonight. I’m sick. (Willingness, intention)
  • He won’t eat that. He hates hot dogs. (Prediction, willingness)

Modal verbs might seem difficult to use at first, but they’re quite simple to form and extremely (very, very!) useful when learning English! Why not try forming some sentences of your own in the comments for extra practice?

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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English7 Synonyms for Being Drunk7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English! Looking for more grammar? Try Tricky Adjectives and Adverbs, when to use Which and That, Order of Adjectives, Its vs It’s, and Present Continuous tense!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and would be happy to teach students about what one ought and ought not say in English! You know you must better your English, why get started with us online? 

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