Is can a modal verb?

Yes, can is a modal verb because it has the same characteristics of all modal verbs. Can doesn’t change its form, there must be another verb in the sentence and it does not take on an -s when used in third person singular (he, she, it).

Keep reading, because people always ask me ‘is can a modal’ so we answered it here for the world to see!

Can does not change form

Unlike normal verbs that change form in different tenses, can remains the same. Can is only used in the Simple Present tense where as normal verbs can be used in all tenses.

It is possible to use can in a sentence referencing the future but the modal auxiliary verb does not become future tense

A good example of a normal verb that changes form is the verb “eat” which can be used as – “eat”, “eats”, “eating”, “ate” & “eaten”

Verb FormTenseExample
EatSimple PresentI eat, You eat, We eat, They eat
EatsSimple PresentHe eats, She eats, It eats
EatingPresent Participle/GerundI am eating (Present Continuous), Eating is fun (Gerund)
AteSimple PastI ate, You ate, He/She/It ate, We ate, They ate
EatenPast ParticipleI have eaten, They had eaten, We will have eaten
“Eat” changing forms.
Verb FormTenseExample
CanSimple PresentI can swim.
CanFuture PossibilityYou can join us later if you are free.
“Can” does not change form.
using can to ask a question

must be another verb with can

A sentence using the modal verb can must have another verb accompanying it. As can is a modal verb and an auxiliary verb it is a helping verb and cannot be alone in a sentence which makes them different from normal verbs which can be alone.

“He can play football with you”. ✓
“He can football with us. X

Can is a helping verb which means its purpose is to help the other verb. In the example above it is helping the verb “play” to express that he has the ability to play football.

You can use a normal verb without can, but you cannot use can without a normal verb. Here is an example of a normal verb without can:

“He eats vegetables”. (Normal Verb Alone)
“He can eat vegetables.” ✓(Modal Verb + Normal Verb)
“He can vegetables. X
(Modal Verb Alone)

Can does not take on an ‘-s‘ when used in third person singular (he, she, it).

Can is like all modal verbs which means it does not add an ‘s‘ or ‘es‘ to the end of the verb when used in third person singular (he, she, it). You cannot use “He cans play” you must use “He can play” or “He plays.”

When you use a normal verb with he, she, it or any third person singular (name, object, company), they add an -s or -es to the end of the verb.

Normal Verb With -s / -esCan / Modal Verb No -s / -es
He eats.He can eat.
She drinks.She can drink.
It bites.It can bite.
John drives.John can drive.
Jessy sings.Jessy can sing.
The school teaches.The school can teach.
The knife cuts.The knife can cut.
Netflix creates.Netflix can create.

In conclusion, can is a modal verb because it never changes form, it cannot be left alone in a sentence without another verb and it doesn’t take on a -s or -es when used with any subject. Hope this article was helpful, for more check out our awesome blog below!

Author Bio

Related Articles