All normal verbs can be conjugated in the future tense.

e.g. I know, I will know. I do, I will do.

But I have noticed that we cannot conjugate the modal verb can in the future tense.

can, I will can?

Although we are able to conjugate the phrase be able (that has approximately the same meaning of can) to will be able, we cannot conjugate can. Is there a way to express can in the future tense without using the expression to be able?

Additionally, need and dare are sometimes utilised as modal verbs.

I need not. Need I not? I dare say. Dare he do it?

Are we able to conjugate these verbs in the future tense as modal verbs?

If need were used as a 'normal' verb, an example of it in the future tense would be I will need to do it. Can we write that sentence by making need a modal verb?

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    One can certainly say Will he dare do it? Perhaps Will I need not give the lecture?, but it is idiomatically constraining. Better to say Will it not be necessary for me to give the lecture?
    – WS2
    Feb 20, 2015 at 11:31
  • @WS2: Searching with Google, "Will he dare" is almost always followed by "to". Feb 20, 2015 at 11:38
  • @PeterShor Don't think I would (include to).
    – WS2
    Feb 20, 2015 at 11:43
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    @WS2: you can find constructions of this kind without to, so some dialects use it. Feb 20, 2015 at 11:49
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    Modal verbs have no infinitive, so they can't form a will-future. You have to take substitute verbs. See en.wikipedia, list of modal verbs and features en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_modal_verbs
    – rogermue
    Aug 4, 2015 at 5:54

3 Answers 3


In English, like in many other languages, we only have two tenses, a past tense and a present tense. Of course, we can still talk about the future. We use special present tense constructions to talk about the future. For example, we can us the present continuous:

  • I am meeting my friends tomorrow.

We can use the present simple:

  • The train leaves at 5pm.

We can use the "going to" future:

  • I am going to punch him in a minute.

Or we can use modal verbs like can, will, may or might:

  • I can/will/may/might leave tomorrow.

We can aslo use past tenses to talk about the future too:

  • If you came tomorrow, we could go to the circus.

So even though we have no future tense we can still talk about future time.

The Original Poster's observation is correct, however, we cannot say will can or will must or must can and so forth. The reason is that we can only ever use one modal verb in a verb phrase. (Where modal verb means a central modal verb that can be used in the positive and negative and so forth, not marginal modals like need, dare or ought).

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    There's actually a principled reason for using at most one modal per verb phrase -- modals are, as noted, defective verbs and lack an infinitive form. But modals must be followed by the infinitive form of whatever verb comes next, so it follows that the following verb can't be a modal auxiliary. And each of the successive verbs in a verb chain is either a present or a past participle, and modals don't have those either. So they have to appear at the beginning of the verb phrase if they appear anywhere at all. And they're all either in the present tense or no tense at all, depending. Feb 20, 2015 at 16:13
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    Old-style grammarians would say that "if you came tomorrow" used the subjunctive mood of "come" rather than past tense. The form is almost the same as the past tense, but one says "if I were" rather than "if I was." If one wanted to make a simple matter-of-fact statement, without the connotations of the subjunctive mood, one could say, "If you come tomorrow we can go to the circus."
    – David K
    Feb 20, 2015 at 20:53
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    Once one gets used to the fact that all usages of the verb be are irregular inflections and idioms, learned by rote and having neither meaning nor sense, the need for the "subjunctive" evaporates. Feb 21, 2015 at 0:55

The future of "can" is "can": Can you do it today? No, but I can do it next week.

When you're 18, you can do whatever you want to. (Said to a small child who is complaining about what [s]he is allowed to do.)

To my native ear, "Will he dare do it?" sounds fine.

"Need not" generally is used when giving advice or directions, so it usually stays in the realm of the present: "You need not answer every question." Even so, the action referred to may take place in the near future: "You need not come to the rehearsal next Wednesday." For other situations, such as predictive conjecture, you can use "won't have to": In this century, the time will come when you won't have to drive the car; it will drive itself."


A special characteristic of modal verbs is that they have no infinitive and no past participle. That's why they are called defective verbs, you can use modal verbs only in present tense and past tense.

As you have no infinitive you cannot form a will-future as it consists of will+ infinitive.

As you have no past participle perfect tenses of modal verbs are not possible. You can't say "I have could" as could is no past participle.

If you want to use a modal verb in other tense forms you have to use substitution verbs, e.g. to be able to do for can/could.

Some verbs as need or dare can be used as modal verbs and as full verbs.

I would recommend to study the grammar chapter Modal Verbs in a basic grammar.

I have just had a look at websites treating the grammar point Modal Verbs. What I have seen is pitiful and useless. Often those websites have no more than half a screen-page. My old school grammar has eight pages on Modal Verbs (can/could - may/might - must/(must) - shall/should - will/would).

By the way, it is useful to distinguish between modal verbs and auxiliary verbs for tense formation/passive/negation/question/emphasis. A lot of English websites mix these verbs and confuse things.

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