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Different modals and how they are used


Amount of Certainty

Sample Sentences

Will not / won't

100 percent certain

I will see you at 7 o'clock.
I will not be at work tomorrow.

May not
Ought to
Ought not to / oughtn't to Should
Should not / shouldn't

50 percent to 75 percent certain

Many modals can be used for different amounts of certainty.

The plane should arrive soon.
It shouldn't be hard to write this paragraph.
(This sentence means: It should be easy to write this paragraph.)

May not
Might not

Less than 50 percent certain

I might win the race.
(I am hoping to win, but I am not confident.)
I could win a million dollars.
(It is possible, but I don't think it will happen.)


Something is possible

The weather can be hot in June, but it also can be quite cold in June.


Obligation or Freedom to Do Something

Sample Sentences

Have to
Have got to

Strongly obligated to do something

Citizens must obey the laws of the country.
People have to breathe in order to live.

Must not
May not
Can not

Not permitted to do something

Drivers must not drive through red lights.
Students may not look in their dictionaries during the vocabulary test.

Had better / Had better not
Should / Should not
Ought to / Ought not to
Might / Might not

Recommending or suggesting that something be done or not done

The student had better do his homework.
(The student will get into trouble if he doesn't do his homework.)
The student should do his homework.
(It is good for the student to do his homework.)


Willing to do something, offering to do something

I'll carry your bag.
I'll pay for lunch.

"Who will offer to paint the door?"
"I will!"

Can / can not
May / may not
Might / might not
Asking or giving permission to do something Can I have ten dollars?
Might I go home now?
You may not leave now.
Need not / needn't No obligation to do something You needn't pay the bill. The company has already paid for everything.
(This means that it is not necessary to pay the bill.)
Be able to
Ability to do something Mary can play the piano.
Mary is able to play the piano.