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How to use modal verbs

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Many people learning English find modal verbs confusing, especially their specific meanings. Here's a basic introduction to some modal verbs with examples.


Can is used in three ways. It is used to show that something is possible:

"You can come to the party if you want."

Can is also used when making a request or when asking for permission:

"Can I leave the office early today?"

Use can to show an ability:

"I can speak English."

should / ought to

Give advice and talk about a duty using should and ought to.

"I think you should be more careful about what you eat."

"I ought to cut the grass while it's sunny."

must / have to

Must and have to are both strong words and have a similar meaning. This is the difference in use:


Must shows an obligation (something that we have no choice about). It usually refers to a personal obligation - something we decide.

"I must remember to call my sister tonight."

have to

Have to is also an obligation, but it is an obligation that comes from someone else, which we must follow.

"I have to return these books to the library. They are due back today."

must not (mustn't)

must not is also used for something that is prohibited (not allowed)

"I mustn't wear jeans to work."

Can you think of any example sentences? Write at least three sentences...Now!

Using 'have' and 'has'