Let’s Learn English Modal Verbs Through Songs

In English, as well as in other languages, modal verbs are those that accompany another verb and modify their meaning. This is a restricted group of invariable verbs which are can/could, may/might, will, shall/should, and must.

Besides being invariable, these verbs also have the following characteristics:

  • They do not use an auxiliary in the interrogative form.
  • In the interrogative form, the verb goes before the subject.
  • They are followed by the main verb without the to.
  • They do not allow a direct object. That is to say, they are intransitive.

To learn them in a fun and effective way, we thought about offering you some songs that we have selected for you.


The modal verb can can express:

  • the ability to do something
  • permission to do something

For the negative form, two structures are permitted: can’t (contracted form) and cannot (extended form).

Diamonds and Rust (Joan Baez)

But we both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust
Yes we both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust

Can you tell how the verb can is being used in this song by Joan Baez?


The verb could has the same construction as can. It expresses a probability that something will happen in the future. It can also indicate the past of can.

Yesterdays (Guns and Roses)

Cause yesterday’s got nothin’ for me
Old pictures that I’ll always see
Some things could be better
If we’d all just let them be


May is used to express a doubt or to ask permission to complete an action. In this last case, it assumes the same meaning as the verb can, but has more of a formal tone.

Something (The Beatles)

You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around and it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know


Might can express:

  • an eventuality
  • permission to do something
  • a desire

I Might Be Wrong (Radiohead)

I might be wrong
I might be wrong
I could have sworn
I saw a light coming on


Will can express:

  • a choice, a request, or an invitation
  • the intention to do something
  • a prediction

Love of My Life (Queen)

You will remember
When this is blown over
And everything’s all by the way
When I grow older
I will be there at your side to remind you how
I still love you, I still love you.


Shall is only used in the interrogative in the first person singular and plural. It can express:

  • proposals or suggestions
  • the willingness to do something
  • a formal request for an opinion or advice

We Shall Overcome (Pete Seeger)

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day.


Should can express:

  • suggestions, advice, and recommendations
  • a reproach
  • an assumption

I Should Have Known Better (The Beatles)

I should have known better
with a girl like you.
That I would love
everything that you do.


The verb must expresses:

  • a duty or a prohibition
  • a recommendation
  • an assumption

Green Eyes (Coldplay)

And anyone who tried to deny you,
must be out of their mind
Honey you should know that I
could never go on without you.

What Song Do You Recommend?

Now it’s your turn! Search for other English songs that have modal verbs. If you are looking for an easy way to learn English, you could try an online course. ABA English offers 144 video classes, short films, and native teachers that will help you learn with a natural and intuitive method!

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