How To Teach Modal Verbs With Permission

You’ve probably had a long day! So here’s my super quick guide to permission modal verbs. There are only 3!

Most of the time, modal verbs do not have an exact or sometimes not even close translation in a student’s mother tongue. They can therefore be difficult to teach. Have a look at this guide when you need to teach meanings, form and use so that you always have the answers to those pesky questions!

What is a Modal Verb?

Well, technically a modal verb is a verb that doesn’t have an infinitive or a past tense. But it’s also a type of auxiliary verb used so that we can effectively express modality, by which I mean probability, obligation, permission and ability. This post is for all things probability, see my other posts for the others.

How To Teach Modal Verbs With Obligation

How To Teach Probability With Modal Verbs

The form is very simple, a modal verb is always followed by a bare infinitive (without the ‘to’). There is one exception to this, which is ‘ought’. ‘Ought’ is followed by the ‘to’ infinitive’.

Modal Verbs For Permission

Present Tense

May – Very Formal

This is for polite requests. It’s most commonly used with the pronoun ‘I’ because you usually ask permission for yourself, but it’s possible to use it for others as well. We also use it to give permission and to deny it with the negative form.

“May I borrow your lighter?”

“May she bring a bottle of wine to the party?”

“You may use a calculator on the test”

“You may not use you mobile phone in this building”

Could – Less Formal

‘Could’ is a little less formal than ‘May’, but still used for polite requests.

“Could I ask you a favour?”

“Could you wake me up early tomorrow?”

Be Careful!

We do not use ‘Could’ to give permission in positive sentences or deny it in negative ones. For example;

“You could bring some wine to the party” (This is for possibility!)

“You couldn’t lift the table by yourself” (This is for ability!)

Can – Least Formal

Again, tell students that you would mostly ask permission for yourself, but it’s also possible to use other pronouns. We also use this one in the same way as ‘May’ to give permission or to deny it.

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

“You can stay up an extra 20 minutes tonight?”

“She can’t go to the party because she was rude to her grandmother”

Any more doubts about modal verbs with permission? Let me know in the comment section!

Happy Teaching!




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