3 Simple Rules For Using Modals Correctly-Learning English Grammar Ep 502

A photograph of an African business woman sending an email. Learn English grammar through this podcast that covers all the rules you need to know, with plenty of examples, to use modal verbs correctly.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 2527 words ⏳ Reading Time 13 min

All You Need To Know About The Confusing World Of English Modal Verbs - Learn Grammar The Easy Way

Today we fix any mistakes you might make with English modal verbs. With just 3 simple rules, you will eliminate the main issues you can think of when using these tricky verbs. If you have been having problems with learning English modal verb grammar , you must listen to this podcast.

Like all of our English podcast lessons, we use lots of examples to explain how the rules work and how you use them. At the end of the lesson, you will know what the most common modal verbs are and how to use them correctly. I’m going to explain each of the rules and how they apply to all the common modal verbs in English, and then I’m going to test you by making you the teacher!

Modal verbs often show how someone feels about something or how he or she intends to act, so they are really important for conversations. So using them correctly is important for your English language fluency. The good news is, there are not that many modal verbs to learn in English, only 13, and we use less than that in everyday English conversation.

It’s a bit of a tradition here at Adept English to start the new year language learning with English grammar. As we say, “we’re all rusty and we need to blow some cobwebs away”. We probably haven’t focused on English language learning over the holidays, and we need to jump back in and get our daily learning routines back to normal. So our first lessons of the year are more grammar and technical to get your brains switched on!

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A Modal Verb3
Sing A Song3
Three Easy Rules3
Eat Fish Tonight3
Modal Verbs Are3
No Modal Verb2
With Modal Verbs2
It Tells You2

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Transcript: 3 Simple Rules for Using MODALS Correctly-Learning English Grammar

Do you know what modal verbs are? And do you have problems with modal verbs in English? If you do, you’ll know that modal verbs appear all the time in English. So if you want to speak English without mistakes, you have to learn modal verbs. How about today I give you three easy rules for modal verbs? And we’ll do some practice at the end of the podcast.

Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.

So first of all, just in case you don’t know - or you may not know the name - what are modal verbs in English? Well, they’re words like ‘could’, ‘can’, ‘should’, ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘ought’, ‘would’, ‘must’. And we use them with another verb - ‘I could sing a song’, ‘You can travel abroad’, ‘He should go to school’, ‘She may support that charity’. So we use these little modal verbs to give more information about the person’s relationship with the action, with the main verb.

How To Use TO And FOR Correctly And Improve Your ESL English Grammar

Using modal verbs correctly

So no modal verb - ‘He goes to school’. With a modal verb ‘He should go to school’. It tells you more - it tells you he has an obligation to go, he should go to school. Again no modal verb ‘I sing a song’, but with a modal verb ‘I could sing a song’. I’m showing you it’s a possibility - it may or may not happen, my song. So modal verbs are a way of showing a person’s relationship with the verb. So take a simple sentence like ‘I eat fish’. Let’s add some modal verbs for more meaning.

‘I should eat fish because it’s good for my health.’ ‘I could eat fish tonight, but maybe I fancy something vegetarian instead.’ ‘I must eat fish tonight - I don’t have a choice!’ ‘I ought to eat fish tonight - otherwise it’ll have gone off in the fridge’.

3 easy rules for modal verbs

So I’ve promised you three easy rules for modal verbs - these three easy rules will help you stop making the most common mistakes with modal verbs! Here goes - it’s really simple when you know how! And I’ll add in some exceptions - learn these if you want to. But the three main rules are the most important things to remember - and just knowing these will improve you use of modal verbs a lot!

Rule Number One - Modal verbs don’t change their endings! They’re always the same. So actually they’re easier than other verbs. So unlike other verbs, modal verbs don’t change when you use ‘he, she or it’.

An example? You would say ‘I speak’, but ‘he speaks’ or ‘she speaks’ or even ‘it speaks’. But if you are using a modal verb, it is simply ‘He can speak’, or ‘She should speak’ or ‘It may speak’. No change - don’t add an S onto the end for ‘he, she or it’.

In most cases, modal verbs are used in the present tense, so that’s easier too. There are some exceptions, but most of the time, they’re used as though they’re simply present tense.

Rule Number Two - Modal verbs don’t use ‘to’ with the infinitive. This is the most common mistake that English language learners make. ‘She should to go’, ‘He must to drink the water’, ‘I could to eat fish tonight.’ No, no and no, these aren’t right!. Modal verbs just use the verb stem, no ‘to’. So ‘She should go’, ‘He must drink the water’, ‘I could eat fish tonight.’

Two exceptions here - when you use the modal verb ‘ought’, OUGHT. This one needs the ‘to’ - ‘She ought to go’. ‘He ought to drink the water’. ‘I ought to eat fish tonight.’ And if you use ‘I have to’ as a modal verb - that one needs the ‘to’ as well. It means the same as ‘ought’. ‘I have to’.

So to summarise - most modal verbs don’t use ‘to’ with the infinitive - unless it’s ‘ought to’ or ‘have to’.

Rule Number Three - when you make the modal verb negative, just use ‘not’, NOT in between the modal verb and the main verb. ‘She should not speak’. ‘He could not go’. ‘You ought not to shout’. So again, that’s much easier that with ordinary verbs, where you have to worry about ‘do not’, ‘don’t’, ‘has not’, ‘hasn’t’ to make it negative. Just a simple ‘not’ between the two verbs is enough.

But notice that these do often get contracted - so ‘She should not sing’ becomes ‘She shouldn’t sing’ and ‘He could not speak French’ becomes ‘He couldn’t speak French’. But we’re just contracting here - showing how we shorten the words and join them together when we speak - it’s really not changing the words or the word order much. ‘We ought not to steal’ becomes ‘We oughtn’t steal’. Notice another little trick there? If you use ‘ought’ with ‘not’ it loses the ‘to’. Little things to trip you up, catch you out. But the main thing here - word order is important - a simple ‘not’ between the two verbs - the modal verb and the main verb is what you need to make a negative.

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In our free English course, The 7 Rules Of Adept English, we share with you valuable learning techniques that will change the way you think about learning to speak in a new language.

Just before we do some practice, a reminder to sign up for our free course, The Seven Rules of Adept English. It’s on our website at adeptenglish.com. And it’s free! Seven fundamental, seven really important tips, pieces of advice - a must for any language learner. Find out how you can learn English and become fluent much more easily with the Adept English method. All in Seven Rules - if you’ve not done it already, do it today!

Test your modal verbs with these 3 easy rules!

OK. Let’s do some practice? Let’s pretend that you’re the English teacher and you have some sentences to correct, where the modal verbs have been used wrongly, used incorrectly. Being the teacher and correcting mistakes is sometimes a good way to check that you know how to do it well. So see if you can correct these sentences. I will give you the answers afterwards. And think about which of the three easy rules for modal verbs is being broken in each of these sentences.

  1. He must to apply for that job.
  2. She cans send the email to everyone.
  3. They don’t should go to the party.
  4. We should not to swim in the pool.
  5. They would to visit their nephew in Berlin.
  6. I don’t can drive a car.
  7. She oughts go home.
  8. He doesn’t could find his shoes.
  9. They must let not the dog out.
  10. It mights rain this evening.


A photograph of a school of fish. This podcast will use lots of examples to explain how 3 simple rules will help you use the most common modal verbs correctly. Learn English grammar naturally and easily.

©️ Adept English 2022

OK - was it hard being the teacher and correcting those sentences or did you find it easy? If you listen to enough English - they will start to sound incorrect to you when they’re wrong. But until that happens, just use the three rules. I’ll go back over those sentences and say the correct version of each one now - and I’ll explain which of the three rules was broken each time. Here goes with the correct answers.

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Answers to the test using 3 easy rules for modal verbs

  1. He must to apply for that job. OK, so this is breaking Rule Number Two - no ‘to’ with that infinite. Instead ‘He must apply for that job’.
  2. She cans send the email to everyone. So this one breaks Rule Number One - modal verbs don’t change. So instead ‘She can sent the email to everyone’.
  3. They don’t should go to the party. This one breaks Rule Number Three. If you want to make the sentence negative, just put ‘not’ between the modal and the main verb. ‘They should not go to the party’ or if you contract that ‘They shouldn’t go to the party’.
  4. We should not to swim in the pool. You’ve got it - this one breaks Rule Number Two. No ‘to’ - just ‘We should not swim in the pool’.
  5. They would to visit their nephew in Berlin. Again Rule Number Two - no ‘to’ - instead ‘They would visit their nephew in Berlin’.
  6. I don’t can drive a car. Remember Rule Number Three - for negative modal verbs, just a simple ‘not’ between the modal and the main verb - I can not drive a car. This one contracts two ways ‘I cannot drive a car’ or ‘I can’t drive a car’. Both are correct, same meaning.
  7. She oughts go home. The main error here - modal verbs do not change. So no S on the end - instead ‘She ought’. But did you spot the 2nd error? If you’re using modal verb ‘ought’ - you have to use ‘to’ with that. ‘She ought to go home’.
  8. He doesn’t could find his shoes. Rule Number Three - a simple ‘not’ between the modal verb and the main verb ‘He couldn’t find his shoes’. Or ‘he could not find his shoes’, if you’re not contracting that.
  9. They must let not the dog out. Again Rule Number Three - a simple ‘not’ between the modal verb and the main verb - so this error is just in the word order ‘They must not let the dog out’. Or you could say here ‘They mustn’t let out the dog’. If you use that word order, that incorrect word order - I’ll say it again ‘They must let not the dog out’ - some English speakers might find it funny if you say that because it sounds like very old fashioned English. Something that would come out of an old translation of the Bible, perhaps! So people might be amused if you get that one wrong - that’s why.
  10. It mights rain this evening. So finally - Rule Number One being broken - modal verbs do not change. There’s no S on the end of ‘might’ - instead ‘It might rain this evening.’


OK, so how did you do at that? Was it OK? Or do you need to practise? It’s much, much easier with practice - like everything else, it becomes automatic if you’ve done it lots of times. So listen to this podcast lots of times until you’ve got it. And you’ll find that your modal verbs suddenly improve a lot when you practise this!

Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

Thank you so much for listening. Please help me tell others about this podcast by reviewing or rating it. And, please share it on social media. You can find more listening lessons and a free English course at adeptenglish.com

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