Modal Verbs Rules You Should Know To Avoid Stupid Grammatical Errors In Writing

Modal verbs rules

Modal verbs are often used as an extra ingredient in sentences and can be called modal auxiliaries. They are not the same as main verbs, but when you use them, they give your sentences an extra layer of meaning and emotion. In short, they serve more as helping verbs. As simple as their functions may be, they are pretty tricky to use and can make you look and sound stupid to a reader.

To prevent your readers from acting "huh" when they read your work, I have compiled a few rules and examples of the modal verbs. However, this will serve as a guide for you to use them properly. Before then, 

What are Modal verbs? 

Modal verbs are verbs that, when you use them, modify the status or direction of the sentence. In other words, they are used to express ability, refusal, uncertainty, preference, permission, possibility, and obligation. These verbs are less important than the main verbs, commonly used in ordinary conversation, and are difficult to classify. Main reason why they are called modal auxiliary verbs. Their main function is to give additional information to the main verb. 

For the sake of this article, they can be thought of as a more “temporal” form of the verb because they are the ones that seem to change the context rather than make a permanent change to the sentence structure. Examples are can, may, shall, could, should, might, etc. 

What are the Modal Verbs' rules and examples? 

1. Modal verbs do not align with the subject agreement rules

In English, there is a subject agreement rule that states that the subject of the sentence must agree with the verb of the sentence. That is, all subjects must be in agreement with the verb. For example: 

• She knows how to play her game. 

• They walk to the store every day. 

In the sentences above, the subjects (she, they) agree with the verbs (know and walk). While the former is a combination of singular subject + singular verb (, knows), the latter is a combination of plural subject + plural verb (walk). 

Read more about the subject agreement here. 

However, when it comes to using any of the modal verbs, the rule is that the subject agreement rule should not be followed.

• She must agrees with the boy (incorrect)

• Camel can counts to number three (incorrect)

These sentences are incorrect. However, the correct version would be: 

• She must agree with the boy. 

• Camel can count to number three. 

2. They cannot be used with past tense verbs or as past tense

In English, the majority of English verbs have three tenses: past, present, and future. For modal verbs, there is nothing like such. Therefore, if you want to use modal verbs, they cannot be used with the past tense. For example: 


• James can came to our house 

• Lola must drank water to become drowsy.

Correct version 

• James can come to our house 

• Lola must drink water to become drowsy.

Also, they can't be used as a past tense. Meaning that you cannot add "ed" to any of the morals. For example, Changing can to caned, or must to musted

3. They do not have a singular or plural form. They are used as they are. 

Verbs in English, such as dance and drink, can be pluralized and singularized. For example, the singular of dance is dances, and the singular of drink is drinks.

In the case of modal verbs, there is nothing as such. However, you should note that modal verbs should always remain as they are in your sentences. You cannot tamper with them by adding "s", " es", or "ed'. See examples below: 


• She musts attend the conference every day. 

• Laura mays go there daily. 

Correct version: 

• She must attend the conference every day. 

• Laura may go there daily. 

4. Because they are auxiliary verbs, they cannot stand on their own.

Modal verbs are always used in combination with other main verbs. Therefore, when you use a modal verb, if it doesn't stand alone, it shows you have used it properly. For example, 

• She will continue to attend the conference (will + continue) 

• She can speak to her father every day without getting tired (can + speak).

At this point, if reversed, we would have the

incorrect version: 

•She will to attend the conference 

•She can to her father every day, without getting tired 

The modal verbs, as you can see, cannot stand alone or make sense without the main verbs.

5. There are some modal verbs called "Semi- modal verbs," which are different from the nine true modal verbs

Apart from the nine modal verbs in English, there are also semi-modal verbs, commonly referred to as "pseudo-modal verbs." They are: "Ought to, want to, need to, have to, be able to, be supposed to, and the like. They are used in sentences as: 

•We need to be there early tomorrow.

•I feel you ought to know better.

Modal verbs in English are extremely tricky to use and can affect the accuracy of your sentences. Moreover, many professionals cannot make headway with them, and many writers tend to misuse them. 

The thing is, the fact that you read about modals today does not guarantee that you will not make the same mistake when next writing. However, to understand it clearly and deeply, I recommend that you sign up for Quillbot, a grammar checker that can help you check your text effectively and point out your modal verb mistakes. By doing this, you will get more familiar with your modal mistakes, and you can easily avoid them as time goes on. You can sign up for Quillbot here if you are interested. 

Hope to see you in my next article. Kindly share with friends and family. 

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