Modals should, may and can


Modals are verbs that modify other verbs. The most common modals are:Can
Should
MustNote that all subjects take the same form of the modal.

Positive

Subject + Modal + Base Form of Verb + Objects

Examples

He can play the piano.
I must leave soon.

Negative

Subject + Modal + Not + Base Form of Verb + Objects

Examples

They can’t visit next week.
You shouldn’t go to that film.

Question

Modal + Subject + Base Form of Verb + Objects

Examples

Can you help me?
What should I do?

Giving Advice with Should

‘Should’ is used when asking for or giving advice. It is also used when asking for suggestions.

Examples

I think you should see a doctor.
What type of job should I get?

Expressing Ability with Can

‘Can’ is used to speak abilities.

Examples

He can speak Japanese.
Can you play golf?

Asking for Permission with May

‘May’ is used to ask for permission.

Examples

May I help you?
May I visit you this afternoon?

NOTE: In spoken English, ‘Can I …?’ is often used instead of ‘May I …?’

Test your understanding with this short quiz.

source: ESL

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