Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you get confused by English modals?

In today’s grammar episode, we answer a listener’s question about four different English modals.

These are tricky for many English language learners.

Listen in and find out how to use these.

Modal verbs

Michelle invites Lindsay to come to New York and says she must visit her.

It’s been a while since they’ve seen each other.

Lindsay shares she definitely would want to go back to New York.

The last time she went was before the pandemic.

One of her friends recently moved back to New York because of a new job and now she has more than one reason to come to New York.

The way Michelle said ‘You must visit me!’ is a native use of this modal.

In today’s episode, Lindsay and Michelle answer a listener’s question on Youtube about modal verbs.

Here is the question:

Hi! I’m Zehra from Turkey and I’m so thankful to you because I feel my English is getting better since I started listening to your podcast. It’s so much fun and I really love your energy! And I have one request. Can you talk about must, should, may, and shall? Im always confused while I’m using them.

Necessity or possibility

This is a common question, as modal verbs can be confusing.

These verbs express necessity or possibility.

The words ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘may’, and ‘shall’ are all modal verbs.

Here is another grammar episodes you may be interested in:

AEE 1937: Didn’t Versus Wouldn’t: A Listener’s English Grammar Question Answered

How to use modal verbs

Lindsay and Michelle will discuss the definitions of these modal verbs.

  • Must
  • Should
  • Shall

They will also provide examples of how to use each.

#1: Must

We use ‘must’ to give a very strong suggestion.

It can sound pushy or insistent sometimes.

However, there is another way you can use it positively and show enthusiasm in your request.

“You must see that movie. I’m telling you!”
“You must bring your key because I won’t be home to unlock the door later.”

#2: Should

This is not as strong as ‘must’.

It is best to use ‘should’ when you are making a suggestion or giving advice.

“You should call me if you are in the area.”
“I should get that dent in my car fixed soon.”

#3: May

‘May’ is used to say something is possible.

This can also be used to permit one to do something.

It is often confused with ‘can.’

The difference is that ‘can’ means you are able and not really giving permission.

People ‘can’ do things and not necessarily ‘may’ or are allowed to do them.

You can check out a recent episode related to this here: AEE 1857: This May Be the Best Grammar Episode Ever.

Most native English speakers still use ‘can’ instead of ‘may’ despite the difference in definition.

“I may call her after the game.”
“May I use the restroom?”

#4: Shall

We use ‘shall’ to talk about the future when the future is unknown.

You can also use ‘shall’ to suggest something.

You will mostly hear native English speakers say ‘will’ instead of ‘shall’ because it sounds too formal.

“I shall be there by 12.”
“Shall I go there tomorrow to buy the dress?”
“What shall we buy her for her birthday?”


Lindsay and Michelle share a roleplay using the modal verbs ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘may’, and ‘shall.’

This will show how each is used in a conversation.

In this roleplay, Michelle is new at the office and Lindsay is showing her around. Lindsay is her colleague.

Michelle: Okay so where do these files go?
Lindsay: You MUST put them in that cabinet in the back.
Michelle: Ok got it. Thanks! MAY I drop them off there when I leave?
Lindsay: Sure! SHALL we take a break and get lunch?
Michelle: Yes! Any good places around here?
Lindsay: I MAY try a new salad place down the street if you want to join.
Michelle: I’d love to. And you SHOULD try the sandwich shop next door. I’ve been and it’s amazing.
Lindsay: I love that place!


Today we shared the basics of modal verbs, but there is a lot more to each of these.

You have to keep in mind that language evolves.

What you see in textbooks may no longer be relevant now.

It is best to keep consuming current English resources to bring your learning to a level that is similar to native English speakers.

If you want to learn more about modal verbs, you can visit

Do you have other questions about English grammar?

Share it in the comments below.

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