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Modal Verb Must May Might

What are modals and their uses? How do you use modals in a sentence? Why do we use modal verbs? What's the difference between should and must?

Modal verbs – must/may/might

1) We use modal verbs to show if we believe something is certain, probable or possible (or not). We also use modals to ask permission, make requests and offers etc.

Modal verbs fall into the category of auxiliary verbs (also known as helping verbs). It means that they are used together with a main verb to give grammatical information and additional meaning to a sentence.

2) We use the modal verb must and the base form of the verb to form sentences. Questions are formed by inverting the subject and must. Negatives are formed with not. Contracted forms are used (mustn’t).

We can use the modal verb must:

a) to express obligation, duty, or prohibition (this also refers to laws and regulations).

You must wear a seatbelt at all times.

You mustn’t use your smartphone while driving.

b) to emphasize the necessity of something.

People must drink a lot of water during the day.

c) to express our certainty in something being true.

Look! There are puddles everywhere. It must have rained.

You are still working? You must be tired!

d) to give a strong recommendation.

You must listen to this song, it’s so catchy!

We use the modal verb may and the base form of the verb to form sentences. Questions are formed by inverting the subject and may. Negatives are formed with not.

We can use the modal verb may:

a) to give permission or prohibit something.

If you have finished the test, you may leave the room.

You may not park here.

b) to ask for permission (more polite than can).

May I use your bathroom, please?

c) to express wishes.

May you both live happily!

d) in academic (or scientific) language to refer to things that typically happen in certain situations.

Drivers may feel tired after driving for 3 hours straight.

Note that we usually use the modal verbs may and might without a significant difference in meaning when expressing possibility. However, might often implies a smaller chance of something happening.

I might go to the movies tonight. I’m not sure.

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