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Grammar for IELTS: A Look at Modals


Welcome back! In our Grammar for IELTS series, we’re looking at a variety of complex grammatical structures that you can use on the Speaking and Writing modules of your IELTS test. Today we’ll be talking about modals, also known as modal verbs or modal auxiliaries, and will look at examples to help you better understand their many uses in English.

What are modals?

A modal is a type of auxiliary verb used to show our opinion about or attitude towards something:

· to indicate how certain we are about what we’re saying

· to talk about the ability

· to talk about obligation

· to give advice

· to ask permission

· to make requests and offers

The most commonly used modal verbs are the following:

will would may might shall should must can could

Modal verbs are different from most other verbs because they never change form and are always followed by an infinitive without ‘to’ (e.g. may know, will watch, must go, etc.). In addition, the same modal verb can be used to express different things. For example, the modal verb can may be used to talk about ability (e.g. He can speak several languages.)or to indicate how probable something is (e.g. The procedure can be painful.). 

Because of their complexity, the best way to truly understand this tricky area of English grammar is by looking at examples of modal verbs in use. Below is a list of modal verbs with example sentences that you may find especially helpful on your IELTS: 

Modal verb 


Example sentence 


future possibility 

I think I will take some time off after I graduate.  


unreal situations 

If people didn’t rely so heavily on plastics, eliminating them wouldn’t be such a huge task. 




May I begin? 

Traveling by train may be faster, depending on the route. 



I might move closer to the city in the future.  



Minorities should stand together and fight for their rights. 




We must listen to scientists and experts on the matter. 

That must have been really difficult for her. 





Sadly, I can’t play any musical instruments. 

I think it’s great that many of us can work from home these days. 

Smoking can cause lung cancer and other health-related problems. 


ability in the past 

polite request 


We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the computer, so we took it back to the shop. 

Could you say that again, please? 

We could stop further damage if we act now. 

Modal verbs hedging 

A hedge is a word or phrase that we use to soften what we say or write. In other words, hedges help to make our statements less direct. It is commonly used in academic writing and in formal conversation. Hedges can also be used to indicate different levels of certainty, and they often involve using modal verbs: 

  • It could be that… 
  • One could argue that… 
  • The answer may be that… 
  • Maybe we should… 

Keep checking our blog for our next Grammar for IELTS post on conditionals! 

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