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Modal Adverbs: Definition, Interpretation & Examples

Modal Adverbs: Definition, Interpretation & Examples
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  • 0:02 What Is a Modal Verb?
  • 0:59 The Function of Adverbs
  • 1:24 Modal Adverbs
  • 3:37 Properties
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

Modal adverbs are adverbs of emphasis that sometimes accompany modal verb forms. In this lesson, we'll talk about what these adverbs do and how they work in expressing meaning in language.

What Is a Modal Verb?

In grammar, modality has to do with properties, such as possibility, obligation, and emphasis. Before we talk about modal adverbs, let's review modal verbs. The main modal verbs in the English language are:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would

These verbs are auxiliary verbs, which modify the meaning of another verb in the sentence. Certain other verbs are sometimes, but not always, referred to as modal verbs: ought, had better, and in certain uses, dare and need.

  • I might go to the meeting if I get all of my homework done first.
  • You can write this paper; you just need to have the confidence.
  • Maggie should come home by 10:00 PM in order for her parents to be happy.

The Function of Adverbs

You probably remember that adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs can tell you more information about a verb, such as how something is done, or when, or to what extent. Some examples of adverbs used in sentences are:

  • The ducks swam placidly on the lake.
  • Later, they nested under the dock.
  • They were quite comfortable nesting there.

Modal Adverbs

If one of the key jobs of adverbs is to add to the meaning of verbs, it makes sense that modal adverbs add additional meaning to modal verbs. Remember that modality has to do with ideas such as the possibility of something happening. Another way to think of this concept is to ask yourself: ''How likely is this to occur or to exist?'' Look at these sentences:

  • I really might be going to the party on Saturday.
  • Surely you can't mean to vote for that candidate!
  • It is likely that Matt will get an A in Chemistry.

Here are a few more sentences using modal adverbs to add to the meaning:

  • That controversial amendment surely won't pass. Undoubtedly, the huge number of protests have had an effect on support for the amendment.

Can you recognize the connection between verb and adverb in those sentences? In the first sentence, the adverb surely modifies the verb will not or won't. In the second sentence, undoubtedly at the beginning of the sentence actually modifies have had, which appears later.

Here's another one:

  • It is plainly raining too hard today for the festival to go on. Fortunately, the festival can easily be postponed until next weekend.

Let's look closely at these two sentences. Remember that modality verbs are linking verbs, verbs of being, attached to another verb. In this case, we have a verb phrase, is raining, and the modal adverb plainly to add emphasis. In the second sentence, the entire verb phrase is can be postponed, and there are two adverbs: fortunately and easily. Do you recognize all of the modal adverbs?

One more example:

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