I can work.
I could work.
I will work.
I would work.
I shall work.
I should work.

  • 8
    This is probably too big a question to answer satisfactorily here. Modal verbs are very important in English, and if you are not familiar with them you should first consult a grammar book or an English teacher. Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 16:22
  • Would that it were not so, but I think this is Not A Real Question (as Barrie says, it's overly broad). Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 17:01
  • 2
    FF is right, I voted closing this question as NARQ, however, even after the closure, you can edit it and it will be reopened. Please, don't discourage. Closing actions are only procedural aspects that we use to make this site better.
    – user114
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 17:19
  • 1
    I've voted to close this question as NARQ because it doesn't contain enough detail (see meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/439/…) or describe what specific problem you're trying to solve that can't be solved with a dictionary - and hence the question is also off-topic (meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/466/…).
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 17:56

1 Answer 1


You may find useful or interesting information about differences among modal verbs, in the following English Language and Usage questions and their answers (listed in descending order):

When do I use “can” or “could”?,
Are “might” and “should” past tenses of “may” and “shall”, respectively?,
What is the difference between ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘may’ and ‘might’?,
When should we use “can”, “could”, “will”, “would”?,
What’s the difference between “should” and “could” (in the present tense)?,
When should I use “can” and when should I use “will”?,
”Can/may/will you help me with this?”

Some English Language Learners questions and their answers also are useful:

What is the difference between can and could?,
”Ought” vs “Should”

The following addresses a small part of your question about the differences. In particular, it talks about the difference in tenses between three pairs of words. This is quoted from an answer by psmears to the second ELU question in the list above:

  • Can/could: This works in all senses - for example: “I think I can do it” -> “I thought I could do it”; “I’m told I can have one” -> “I was told I could have one”; “He can’t have eaten it all by now” -> “He couldn’t have eaten it all by then”.

  • Will/would: Again, this works in all senses: “I know someone will take the job” -> “I knew someone would take the job”; “These days he will lose his temper at the drop of a hat” -> “In those days he would lose his temper at the drop of a hat”; “I think that will work” -> “I thought that would work” etc.

  • Shall/should: This is largely the exception to the rule - use of should as a past of shall is somewhat archaic, largely because shall is, itself, archaic in most uses. In practice the “obligation” sense of should dominates. For instance, “You shall go to the ball” tells Cinderella emphatically what is about to happen, whereas “The fairy godmother told Cinderella she should go to the ball” implies that Cinderella was told of an obligation upon her rather than a prediction of her future. Of course, this is why there seems to be a meaning shift in example 2 from the question.

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