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A modal is an auxiliary, or helping, verb and is placed in front of another verb to add a different meaning to that verb.

Kevin can help us.
  modal + simple verb  


This modal adds the idea of possibility to the verb. Here the meaning is:

  • It is possible for Kevin to help us.

  • Kevin is able to help us.

Modals are used with the simple form of verbs. (The simple form is the infinitive verb without "to". For example: infinitive = to help; simple form = to help): Kevin can help us.

Modals eliminate the "s" on the simple form of the verb in third-person singular: He can help us, instead of He helps us.

Modals do not use do for questions and short answers.


Question Short Answer
Can he help us? He can.
He can help us, can't he? He might be able to. Sure he can.
NOT: Does he can help us? He does.


Modals usually do not have infinitive forms or participle forms:

  • to can — infinitive

  • canning — participle

  • canned — past participle

Modals can be contracted: can not = can't.

Modals have two very general kinds of meanings:

  • amount of certainty

  • obligation or freedom to do something