Modal Verbs – How to use them in the past

Hello there!

I hope you are well today. We recently covered the use of the modal verbs could, should and might, when used in the present.

However if we wanted to use those modal verbs in the past, there are a few important rules that need to be learned, in order to use them correctly.

Firstly, we use the modal verb might, may or could to show that we are not 100% sure about what happened. We are speculating and, or guessing about something that happened in the past.

The form used is modal verb + have + past participle.

Might/May + have + past participle

  • Kyle might have left early, that’s why he is not here at the moment.
  • Sarah might have forgotten her car keys, so she needs to go back home.
  • She may have lost her map so she couldn’t find the party.
  • I may have closed the door, I can’t remember.

Could + have + past participle

  • James could have come to my house but at the last minute he was told he had to work.
  • Claire and Jessica could have been rescued from the trapped elevator, if they had pushed the emergency button.

Should + have + past participle

  • You should have come to the party it was fantastic (Recommendations)
  • Mike, you should have studied harder, it was an important test (Advice)
  • I should have arrived on time, now I have missed the interview (Regret)

* Should takes on a different meaning when used in the past. It is used to express past regret, advice or recommendations.

I hope this has been helpful. For more on these modal verbs in the past, please check out Unit 138 of the online ABA course.

Have a great day!


  1. I really appreciate your english classes.thanks for helpme to improve my fluency.Greetings from M’exico.

  2. Hi, everybody; learning English from ABA made improuve my English enderstandiing. For me, to master the use of the modal verbs and English idioms, it requires to wach movies and to read books so you can anderstand how use and write them. Hope to write to you again.Best wish.

    • Hello, Joseph! Thank you for your comment! We’re really glad that we’re helping you improve your English! We agree with you: watching movies helps a lot when learning a language. Listening to music you like and reading books/magazines/blogs you’re interested in are also good ways to improve your English. 🙂

  3. Thank you madam for your nice explain 🙂

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