I need help on using model verbs in different tenses.

As per my knowledge modal verbs don't form tenses, Modals are used in different time versions i.e. past/ present/ future. It's context which gives idea about sentence tense.

For example:

  • I could read english.

From the above sentence we come know about my ability to read english irrespective of timeline.

We need more information to define tense.

  • I could read english when I was in England now I forgot - Past

  • I could read english now, after completing my studies - present

  • I could read english tomorrow, if I study it properly - future conditional.

Correct me if I am wrong. Can I apply Same logic to other modal verbs also like can-could, may-might, will-would.

  • None of your example sentences are natural, and depending on what you intend them to mean, they might also be ungrammatical. You're also confusing "tense" with "time". Accurate example sentences would make it possible for someone to give you a definitive answer.
    – gotube
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:34

2 Answers 2


Some modals are not translatable to all tenses. For example:

PAST: I could read a little German when I was in college, but not now.

This is OK, but try using should, and it all falls apart.

PAST: I should read a little German when I was in college, but not now.

That is nonsensical because should indicates obligation or intent and does not work with the simple past tense. In order to make it work, you need to use the present perfect tense, like this:

I should have read more German when I was in college, but I did not.


No you are incorrect. You must use the appropriate modal for the tense Try studying this. Modal Verbs

Also it is not all about Grammar. This is the correct tense but

I could read English when I was in England

implies you cannot read English now because you are not in England.

This is the wrong modal used in this context; for Present and Future we normally use can/can’t.

I can read English now, after completing my studies.- present

The next sentence is very debateable

I can read English tomorrow. If I study it properly.- future

A better option would be

I can read English tomorrow. If I study it today.- future

This being figurative not literal

Also in this case we could use could to denote a possibility

I could be reading English tomorrow. If I studied it properly.- future

  • Thanks for answers, But what about imaginary / hypothetical situation , i think we need to use could instade of can in present and future tense . Reference my second and third example
    – user4084
    Jun 10, 2021 at 11:24
  • OK using "could" as a possibility...I could be reading English tomorrow if I studied it properly. However in your Present tense example you have precluded the use of could. Try; I could read English in class if you want me to.
    – Brad
    Jun 10, 2021 at 11:52
  • Got it thanks ... Back to my question , can we use modals in any tense? ... Sentence tense version is depends upon other indication in context e.g. today , tomorrow, last year , when I was kid etc .
    – user4084
    Jun 10, 2021 at 12:43

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