Are they the same as the "verbs-of-being" I was forced to painstakingly memorizetaught in Middle School? I.e.

  • Be
  • Am
  • Is
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Shall
  • Will
  • May
  • Can
  • Might
  • Could
  • Should
  • Would

The modal verbs are a subset of the "verbs of being", which are properly called auxiliary verbs. The classical modal verbs are:

  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • can
  • could

Modal verbs are peculiar in that they have no infinitive form (you can't say to shall) and cannot be combined with other modal verbs in Standard English (you can't say I will might go).

By way of contrast, the other auxiliary verbs are formed from be, have, and do, and they don't have these properties. You can say to be, and you can combine a non-modal auxiliary with a modal: I should have bought those shoes.

For more detailed discussion, see Wikipedia.

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  • I will might have learned something from your answer! ;-) – Andrew Flanagan Jan 25 '11 at 21:53
  • +1 -- can you stick this info in the Modal-Verbs tag-wiki so that future seers of that tag don't get confused? Oh, and have a checkmark thingy :P – Billy ONeal Jan 25 '11 at 23:13
  • "will" has an infinitive form (i.e. to will something to occur/"There will be water if God wills it") but obviously that's different than the typical usage to say "that will occur in the future" (EDIT: For that matter so does "can", i.e. "one cans fish to keep it from spoiling", or "to can fish is to prevent it from spoiling") – Billy ONeal Jan 25 '11 at 23:17
  • 1
    @Billy, I would argue that to will and to can are different words from the modals will and can, though they are homophones. In the case of will there is an etymological connection between the full verb and the modal verb, but I'm pretty sure that there is no connection at all between the different senses of can. – JSBձոգչ Jan 26 '11 at 3:10
  • I agree. Was just being nit-picky :) – Billy ONeal Jan 26 '11 at 4:05

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