ESL Modal Verbs List: Examples & Exercises

Free resource to practice modal verbs for ESL teachers and students. (Free download available.)

Modal Verbs: Examples & Uses

CanThey can control their own budgets. 
We can’t fix it. 
Can I smoke here? 
Can you help me? 
Asking for permission 
CouldCould I borrow your dictionary? 
Could you say it again more slowly? 
We could try to fix it ourselves. 
I think we could have another Gulf War. 
He gave up his old job so he could work for us. 
Asking for permission
Future possibility
Ability in the past 
MayMay I have another cup of coffee? 
China may become a major economic power. 
Asking for permission 
Future possibility 
MightWe’d better phone tomorrow, they might be eating their dinner now. 
They might give us a 10% discount.
Present possibility
Future possibility
MustWe must say good-bye now. 
They mustn’t disrupt the work more than necessary. 
Ought toWe ought to employ a professional writer.Saying what’s right or correct
Shall (More common in the UK)Shall I help you with your luggage? 
Shall we say 2.30 then? 
Shall I do that or will you? 
Asking what to do 
ShouldWe should sort out this problem at once. 
I think we should check everything again. 
Profits should increase next year. 
Saying what’s right or correct
Recommending action
Uncertain prediction 
WillI can’t see any taxis so I’ll walk. 
I’ll do that for you if you like. 
I’ll get back to you first thing on Monday. 
Profits will increase next year. 
Instant decisions 
Offer Promise 
Certain prediction 
WouldWould you mind if I brought a colleague with me? 
Would you pass the salt please? 
Would you mind waiting a moment? 
“Would three o`clock suit you?” – “That’d be fine.” 
Would you like to play golf this Friday? 
“Would you prefer tea or coffee?” – “I’d like tea please.” 
Polite way of asking 

Modal Verbs Exercise: Find the Right One

Read the sentences and insert the right modal verb.

1. Ted’s flight from Amsterdam took more than 11 hours. He ______ be exhausted after such a long flight.

2. The book is optional. My professor said we could read it if we needed extra credit. But we ______ read it if we don’t want to.

3. Susan ______ hear the speaker because the crowd was cheering so loudly.

4. The television isn’t working. It ______ damaged during the move.

5. Kate: ______ hold your breath for more than a minute?
Jack: No, I can’t.

6. You ______ be rich to be a success. Some of the most successful people I know haven’t got a penny to their name.

7. I’ve redone this math problem at least twenty times, but my answer is wrong according to the answer key. The answer in the book ______ be wrong!

8. You ______ do the job if you didn’t speak Japanese fluently.

9. You ______ worry so much. It doesn’t do you any good. Either you get the job, or you don’t. If you don’t, just apply for another one. Eventually, you will find work.

10. You ______ be kidding! That can’t be true.

11. You ______ leave the table once you have finished your meal and politely excused yourself.

12. Jenny’s engagement ring is enormous! It ______ a fortune.

13. ______ we move into the living room? It’s more comfortable in there and there’s a beautiful view of the lake.

14. If I had gone white water rafting with my friends, I ______ down the Colorado River right now.

15. At first, my boss didn’t want to hire Sam. But, because I had previously worked with Sam, I told my boss that he ______ take another look at his resume and reconsider him for the position.

16. You ______ take along some cash. The restaurant may not accept credit cards.

17. The machine ______ on by flipping this switch.

18. I can’t stand these people – I ______ get out of here. I’m going to take off while you get rid of them.

19. You ______ forget to pay the rent tomorrow. The landlord is very strict about paying on time.

20. Do you always have to say the first thing that pops into your head? ______ you think once in a while before you speak?

21. Terry and Frank said they would come over right after work, so they ______ be here by 6:00.

22. Yesterday, I ______ cram all day for my French final. I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight.

23. We ______ no longer suffer the injustice of oppression! Freedom shall be ours!

24. If I had gone to the University of Miami, I ______ participated in their Spanish immersion program.

25. The lamp ______ be broken. Maybe the light bulb just burned out. 


Download this worksheet in Word and PDF doc format (zipped).

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