Modal Verbs (KS2) Explained For Parents

Jo Kingsley
Jan 24, 2024 By Jo Kingsley
Originally Published on Jul 22, 2020
Mother explaining 'modal verbs KS2 level' to her son.
Age: 0-99
Read time: 3.7 Min

We know that we're swiftly approaching the school holidays and that, for most families, homeschooling is coming to an end.

But if you have primary-aged children in, or preparing to enter, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 or Year 6 and you're looking to give them a little bit of extra support at home (or even just get a better understanding of what they're up to), this easy guide to Modal Verbs for Key Stage 2  is for you.

Teaching children the intricacies of grammar can be tricky for parents who have long since left school and forgotten the difference between a verb and an adverb. So here at Kidadl we want to be your official 'cheat sheet' resource for all curriculum-based quandaries. Whether you need help understanding those SAT results or a hand with extra resources; whether you're looking for reading inspiration or some educational TV ideas so you can leave them to it and enjoy a hot coffee, we're here to help. 

What Are Modal Verbs?

Primary school children learning about modal verbs.

Modal Verbs are part of the National Curriculum for English. They are different to standard verbs: they're auxiliary or 'helping' verbs. Instead of describing an action, modal verbs indicate the possibility of future action.

The common Modal Verbs are:






There are also some additional verbs and expressions that are considered Modal Verbs because they behave in much the same way.


Ought to

Had better

Need not

How Do You Identify Modal Verbs?

Girl figuring out modal verbs.

Modal Verbs behave differently to normal verbs, and they have some key characteristics which can help you to identify them.

They give extra information on the context and action of the verb that follows

They never change their form, so you can't add different endings like "s", "ed" or "ing".

They are always followed by an infinitive without the word "to" (with the exception of 'ought to' that breaks the rules, but is still considered a Modal Verb)

They are used to express certainty, possibility, willingness, obligation, necessity, ability and probability.

What Are The Types Of Modal Verbs?

Boy learning about types of modal verbs.

There are many different types of Modal Verbs. They're really versatile and fulfil positive and negative functions. Here are some of the key types and uses.


You can use Modal Verbs when you want to demonstrate a skill or someone's ability. For example:

'Seth can dance' or 'We could run.'


You can use Modal Verbs to help give gentle advice. For example:

'You should go the doctors if you feel unwell' or 'You had better not stay up too late if you have school in the morning.'


You can use Modal Verbs to give instructions, advice or to declare that something is necessary. For example:

'You must put your toys away' or 'Tom ought to put the children to bed tonight.'


You can use Modal Verbs to ask or to give permission for an activity. For example:

'You may have dessert' or 'Could I have a snack please?'


You can also use Modal Verbs to set boundaries or rules. For example:

'You can not go to the shop alone' or 'You must not tease your brother.'


You can use Modal Verbs when you want to demonstrate the likelihood that something is going to happen. For example:

'It might snow tomorrow' or 'We will have sausage and mash for dinner.'

Modal Verb Activities

If you want to put your children (or yourself) to the test, there are lots of fun little games and activities you can find online - your child's school might even have some recommended Modal Verb resources on their website.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Complete the sentence: write out some sentences with the Modal Verb missing for children to fill in.

Be an Agony Aunt: ask children to use their modal verbs to give advice. For example: 'You should try wearing your hair up.'

Play 'Shall we?': children use modal verbs to respond to a question, prompt or activity. For example: 'I like sports' to which they could answer 'Shall we play tennis?' 

Be a Fortune Teller: ask children to predict the future with their Modal Verbs. For example: 'You will be an astronaut!'

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Written by Jo Kingsley

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Film and English

Jo Kingsley picture

Jo KingsleyBachelor of Arts specializing in Film and English

Jo is a versatile writer with a Bachelor's degree in Film and English from the University of Southhampton who is passionate about mental health and well-being, history, art, food and drink, and photography. As a work-from-home mom to two adventurous boys, she loves exploring local castles, museums, and galleries with them, and sharing her knowledge and interests through her blog.

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