• FORM
    • Positive


      I/You/We/They/He/She/It can go soon.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It must finish the
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It can't (can not) leave.
      I/You/We/They/He/She/It shouldn't (should not) stay.


      Short answer

      Can I come?
      Should we leave?
      Yes, you can./ No, you can't.
      Yes, we should. / No we shouldn't.
  • Function
    • Necessity/obligation

      e.g. We must be on time for the appointment.
      e.g. We have to change trains at Reading station.
      e.g. Do I need to take my passport?

      No necessity/obligation

      e.g. You don't have to pay the full amount.
      e.g. We needn't (don't need to) hurry.


      e.g. You mustn't smoke in the offices.


      e.g. It can rain a lot in the spring.
      e.g. They could ask you to start immediately.
      e.g. They may not except our offer.
      e.g. He might attend the meeting.


      e.g. You can leave early tonight.
      e.g. Could I borrow your pen?
      e.g. May I join you?


      e.g. She can speak five languages.
      e.g. I could swim when I was seven years old.


      e.g. You should take a break.
      e.g. He ought to see a doctor.

      Offers and requests

      e.g. Would you like a coffee?
      e.g. Would you book a taxi for me?
      e.g. Could you pass me the salt, please?
      e.g. Shall I open the window?
  • Help
    • Have to and need to are not true modal verbs but they have a similar function. The negative and question forms of these verbs follow the same rules as ordinary verbs.

      I don't have to work at the weekend.
      Do you have to travel abroad for your job?
      Do you need a taxi from the airport?
      I don't need to hurry.

      The past of have to is had to. This expresses a past obligation.

      He had to work very hard to pass his last exam.
      Did you have to wear a uniform when you were at school?

      The positive forms of must and have to are very similar. However, we use must for obligations which are personal to the speaker.

      I must go to the bank. (it is necessary because I need some money)

      We use have to for obligations determined by rule or law.

      You have to wear a seatbelt while driving. (you have no choice, it is the rule)

      The negative forms of must and have to are very different. We use mustn't when it is forbidden to do something. (100% necessary not to do something)

      You mustn't tell anyone our plans because they are confidential. (it's forbidden)

      We use don't have to say that something is not necessary.

      You don't have to reserve a seat on the train. (you can if you want to but it's not necessary)

      We use should / shouldn't have + past participle to look back at past actions and states with some regret or criticism. That is to say that we wish things had been different.

      You should have called the fire service immediately. (you didn't but I wish you had)
      It was a secret. Malcom shouldn't have told you. (he told you and I wish he hadn't)

      Needn't have + past participle is used to express a past action which wasn't necessary.

      These trousers weren't dirty. You needn't have washed them. (you washed them but it wasn't necessary)
      I needn't have gone to school today. All the lessons were cancelled due to a strike by the teachers. (I went but it wasn't necessary)

      The following expressions are commonly used instead of modal verbs:
      to be allowed to expresses permission
      to be requested to expresses obligation in a polite and formal way.
      to be supposed to expresses the idea that something is advisable or expected even if it is not an obligation
      to be able to expresses ability

      Children are not allowed in to the bar without an adult. (they do not have permission)
      Hotel guests are requested to checkout of their hotel rooms before midday. (this is the rule of the hotel)
      You are supposed to make a small financial contribution when you visit the church. (it is expected but not a rule)
      Elliott is able to do the crossword in less than ten minutes. (he has the ability to do this)

Modal verbs Practice Test

Select the best answer to complete the sentences below. Sometimes it may seem that two answers are possible but there is always a BEST answer. Check your score at the end of the test by clicking 'RESULTS'.

Complete each sentence by selecting the best answer

  1. 01. You're clearly very ill. I think you go to see the doctor.

  2. 02. My phone battery has run out. use your phone to make a quick call?

  3. 03. I'm sorry but Mr. Johnson you today because he has to deal with an urgent matter.

  4. 04. The restaurant opens at 7pm but you eat that early if you don't want to.

  5. 05. You smoke anywhere in the building. It is strictly forbidden.

  6. 06. If you offer someone flowers in Germany, you to give them an odd number.

  7. 07. I don't think I have passed the exam. I worked a lot harder before I took it.

  8. 08. These plans are completely confidential so you keep them a secret.

  9. 09. Notice: Passengers to show their boarding passes before embarking.

  10. 10. You worry about completing the application form now. You can do it later.

  11. 11. Don't throw away any receipts. You need them later.

  12. 12. In Britain, you to buy cigarettes under 16 years of age.

  13. 13. you mind checking if the post has arrived?

  14. 14. My parents didn't own a car when I was young so I cycle everywhere.

  15. 15. We haven't decided where we're going for our next holiday. We stay with friends in Spain.

  16. 16. You bought a new suit. I have one I could have lent you.

  17. 17. Children nowadays spend too long playing computer games. They to get more exercise.

  18. 18. I don't know where Helen is. She be having lunch.

  19. 19. We're both too tired to cook. order a pizza?

  20. 20. You stolen that money. It was very dishonest of you.

For more help and practice exercises, go back to Tutorials & Practice Tests.
For more help and practice the best selection of English books is available at our bookshop.