Modal verbs

Home learning focus

To explore and revise ways modal verbs can change the tone of a piece of writing.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos to help you recap different types of verbs including action verbs, state verbs and modal verbs and how they are used

  • three activities


Watch this short clip to recap different types of verbs including dynamic (or action) verbs, stative (or state) verbs and modal verbs.

A yoga instructor explains how she uses verbs in her classes.

Dynamic verbs

You may have heard a verb described as a doing word: he walks; Ben is trampolining; the dog wagged its tail. The words in bold are all examples of dynamic verbs.

Stative verbs

Stative verbs show a state of being, or emotion, or express a less physical action: students are in the hall; the dog likes its food; Shona understood the lesson.

Notice that verbs can be in the past, present or future tense:

I stretchedI stretchI will stretch
He thought of an ideaHe thinks of an ideaHe will think of an idea

Modal verbs

A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb which means that it is a 'supporting', or 'helping' verb. It is used to show how certain or necessary something is.

Examples of modal verbs are:

Can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would.

  • Students may wear uniform suggests a degree of choice.
  • Students must wear uniform means that they are required to; no choice about it!

As modal verbs are supporting verbs you will always need another verb to go with them.

If we are told that we 'must' do something, like complete homework, the modal verb 'must' indicates a high level of modality. There is no argument. The homework has to be done.

But if we are told that we 'may' do homework, the modal verb 'may' suggests a degree of choice. Modal verbs are useful for telling us about how necessary, or possible, something is.

Watch the following clip to understand a little more about modal verbs and how they are used.

Watch the video. Which would you expect to contain more modal verbs: the uniform policy or the monthly newsletter?

Modal verbs are easy to spot because there are so few of them. In addition to must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may and might, we can add ought to and have to.

The level of modality in different texts is interesting. Think about the difference between the following sentences:

  • Cinderella could go to the ball.
  • Cinderella can go the ball.
  • Cinderella will go to the ball.

Cinderella might feel happiest about the last one, as it sounds the most likely!


Activity 1

Identify all of the verbs in the following practise activity before taking a short verb quiz.

Activity 2

Write a letter to your future self. Where would you like to be in five years’ time? Ten years’ time? What will you need to do to get there? Give some advice about how to explore possibilities and achieve your goals. Think carefully about your verb chioces, and structure your writing to include plenty of modals.

Top tip

Modals express the likelihood of something happening and your attitude towards it. How determined are you? Is this reflected in the modality of your writing? For example:

Dear future me,

In five years’ time you, will have already have taken your exams. You may have done better in English than in History…

Activity 3

Continue to practise using modal verbs in this quickfire activity sheet from Beyond Secondary.

You can print this activity sheet or write down your answers on a piece of paper.

Quickfire modal verbs

Where next?

In this lesson you have explored ways modal verbs can change the tone of a piece of writing.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you get to grips with modal verbs.

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