Sophie is in Bali this week and she discovers some unusual Indonesian food. 


We use the modal verbs might, may and could + an infinitive form without to when we think it is possible that something is true. We use must when we are sure it is true and can’t when we are sure it isn’t true.

So we can use might, may and could for making guesses?

Yes. They’re all used when we are not sure about something, but we think that it is possible that it is true.

They might be some kind of small pig.

But could I also say, 'They could be a kind of pig' or 'They may be a kind of pig'?

Yes, you could. The meanings are really similar. You can choose whether to use may, might or could.

Ah, OK. So if I'm not sure about something I can use may, might or could and the meaning is almost the same. That's easy to remember. 

Yes, that's right. But there's something else which affects the meaning, and that's how you say it; the 'intonation'. If you stress maymight or could it sounds less probable.

It could be mango juice.   (less likely)
It could be mango juice.   (more likely)

OK, and if I’m sure about something, what modals do I use?

We use must if we think something is true and can’t if we think something isn’t true.

So, it must come from an animal.
That looks like tomato juice, but it can’t be, that would be too easy.

Do the verb forms change in the third person?

No, they don’t change. They are the same in the first, second and third person.

Great! I think I like these modals!

You're right. Once you know the rules, they're pretty easy. Don't forget they are always followed by the infinitive form without to. We also use may/might + be + -ing for something happening right now or a possible future arrangement.

That might be Mum phoning from Bali.
She might be going to Australia

You also used 'it could be a kind of pig' for describing something in the present.

Yes, but that was with the verb to be, a stative verb. We use the –ing form with active or dynamic verbs.

I see. Is there anything else to be careful about?

Yes, if you are talking about possibility in the past you need the modal + have + past participle.

She might have taken those photos in China.
I may have thrown it away by mistake.

Hmm. I think I may need to practise these verbs a bit.

Yes, you might be right!


Total votes: 728
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What might you have for supper tonight? Do you think you may visit the UK one day? 


englishmeow's picture
englishmeow 21 March, 2016 - 21:25

I have a quick question. I like how your exercises and videos explain everything, but for modals, can a change in the intention cause a change in the sentence structure or the meaning of the sentence?

60 users have voted.
Jo - Coordinator's picture
Jo - Coordinator 22 March, 2016 - 08:07

Hi englishmeow! Are you talking about intonation? The way we say something doesn't change the structure, but we can change the meaning by putting more or less emphasis on particular words. Best wishes, Jo (LearnEnglish teens team)

60 users have voted.
princess2001's picture
princess2001 9 December, 2015 - 18:15

though I wanna learn English but I can't maintain regularity in visiting your site. whenever I get bored, I open it. I get happy to learn something more of spoken English.

77 users have voted.
anime_lover's picture
anime_lover 4 October, 2015 - 14:36

i am confused in this example:
It could be mango juice. (less likely)
It could be mango juice. (more likely)
what is the difference between both of them i really don't understand and need help
and thanks for these amazing videos, they help me alot for my exams and tests.. :)

63 users have voted.
JoEditor's picture
JoEditor 4 October, 2015 - 18:01

Hi anime_lover,
In that example the explanation tells you it's the intonation (how you put the stress on the words) that makes the difference to the meaning. If you put the stress on the modal verb, like may, might or could it sounds less probable. 
Here's another example: 
I think I might pass the exam. (sounding quite positive) 
I think I might pass the exam. (less probable/less ikely if you put stress on 'might' - it sounds like you're not so sure.)
I hope this helps.
Best wishes, Jo (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

77 users have voted.
Kakashi_Hatake's picture
Kakashi_Hatake 3 October, 2014 - 21:49

I think so..
But it is difficult to visit UK, you know..
If my dream happened, I'd like to study in the great universities , make friends & visit the countryside..

157 users have voted.
alicj's picture
alicj 22 August, 2014 - 16:14

hello i dont understand one thing the used of could can you explain it more clearley? soory about my bad english and i hope you will answe soon

160 users have voted.
strawberry14's picture
strawberry14 29 June, 2016 - 22:37

Not all people. just a few of people who still traditionality bcs in there all of moeslim that's not allowed to eat them. esspecially for bats and bloods, which not allowed. ofcourse those foods only in Manado,Flores and Bali, not all of Indonesia. by the way i'm Indonesian.

45 users have voted.
ahmedonly's picture
ahmedonly 3 August, 2014 - 07:05

i have question
if i want to tag on a sentence -to make the question tag- i mean. what would it be? because at school my teacher of english said that we'll use an alternative modal verb, adn the "long man" organisation has written at our curriculum that we'll didn't but i don't know a definite answer to this question

192 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 4 August, 2014 - 06:40

Hi ahmedonly. First of all, thanks for your kind comment! We are so glad to know that you like these grammar videos. We're working on more videos at the moment and they'll be ready soon, so keep on coming back to LearnEnglish Teens! And please keep on writing comments - we love reading them! :)

About question tags with modal verbs, they work similarly to other question tags. If the main modal verb is positive, the question tag has the same modal verb in the negative, and vice versa. Here are some examples from the explanation.

  • It could be mango juice, couldn't it?
  • It must come from an animal, mustn't it?
  • That might be Mum, mightn't it?

Does that help to answer your question?

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

186 users have voted.
Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 4 August, 2014 - 06:07

Hi Szuyi. Yes, this area of grammar is a little bit tricky. Are you asking about the difference between might and may, or in general how to use them? Have a look at this page about may and might on LearnEnglish - that might help. Let us know if that answers your question. You can also write sentences on here in comments to practise using the verbs. :) Good luck!
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

230 users have voted.
JoEditor's picture
JoEditor 16 July, 2014 - 08:29

Hi Maline,
You're right, should is a modal verb too. In this video we are only looking at the modal verbs we use for guessing or speculating about things, which are called the 'modals of deduction'. We use should to give suggestions and advice. It's a shame, but we can't include too much in each video so some areas of grammar are left out. 
If you want to study the other modals you should have a look at our LearnEnglish website too. (You see how useful the modal verbs are!) Modal verbs are explained here. There is also have a very complete Grammar section and you can read about the use of should on this page.    
I hope this helps you. Let us know if you have any more questions. 
Best wishes, Jo. (LearnEnglish Teens Team) 

192 users have voted.
solomene's picture
solomene 5 April, 2015 - 07:01

Hi joEditor,I have a problem here in watching these grammar snacks.for last two days i have this problem.when the video reaches almost at its half it automatically runs to the end skipping the remaining can i solve this problem please guide me.Thanks in anticipation

152 users have voted.
JoEditor's picture
JoEditor 5 April, 2015 - 08:11

Hi solomene,
Thanks for your message. Sorry that you are having problems with the videos. Is it only the Grammar snack videos that do this or all the videos on the site? I have just checked this video and it worked fine. Can you tell me please which browser you are using and also if this is happening with ALL the videos on the site or just these ones. 
Thanks a lot. Best wishes, Jo (LearnEnglish Teens Team) 

159 users have voted.
solomene's picture
solomene 7 April, 2015 - 06:01

Hi JoEditor,
Thanks for your reply.I use Google chrome.The issue was just with these grammar snack videos but as i have checked them, these are also working well now.Perhaps this was a temporary issue.Again thanks a lot for your response

104 users have voted.
JoEditor's picture
JoEditor 7 April, 2015 - 10:00

Hi solomene,
Thanks for letting me know. I'm happy to hear the videos are working fine for you now. 
Best wishes Jo (LearnEnglish Teens Team) 

107 users have voted.