The top 5 phrases with modal verbs you never knew existed

Modal verbs like could, should, might, may, must can be a real nightmare, and to many it can be very confusing to decide which one you need to use.  Here are some phrases you can learn straight from this article.  Below are the top 5 idiomatic phrases used with modal verbs that you may not have seen before!

#5 Might as well

I like this phrase because it is very common and very simple to use.  The phrase simply means that it would be better to do something than not to do it.

‘I know the weather is not so good, but we might as well take a walk around the city anyway because we’re only here for one day’.

As you can see in the example, you can simply insert it between the subject and the verb.  With the same meaning, might as well can be used to make unenthusiastic suggestions: 

‘It’s raining outside, we might as well stay indoors this afternoon’

It is also often used as a response when someone makes a suggestion.  It is like a less enthusiastic version of why not.

‘If we miss the bus shall we walk into town instead? It isn’t so far’

‘Ok, we might as well’

#4 Could do with

This phrase is another way to say that you need something, either now or in the future.  It is a little bit less strong than need:

‘It is going to be very busy in the restaurant tonight, so we could do with an extra person working in the kitchen’.

‘My shoes look really old, I could do with some new ones’

If you want to put a verb after this phrase, you can use the -ing form of the verb:

‘My shoes look really old, I could do with buying some new ones’

You can also use this phrase to talk about something you needed in the past, but now it’s too late.  For this we use the form could have done with’

‘We were very busy in the restaurant last night, we could have done with an extra person’

‘My feet are really hurting after the hiking trip, I could have done with some better shoes’

Another excellent little verb phrase which is similar to this is make do with.  Make do with is one of my favourite verb phrases, despite the fact that it looks quite strange.  To make do with something means to manage with using something, even if it is not enough, or not what you wanted.

‘They didn’t have any big suitcases in the shop for our holiday, so we will have to make do with a small one.’

‘We need more people to get the job finished on time, but we will have to make do with what we have.’

If you want to use a verb after this phrase, you can use the -ing form:

‘It is so hot and the air conditioning is not working, we will have to make do with opening all the windows.’

You can also use this in the past tense:

‘They didn’t have any big suitcases in the shop for our holiday, so we made do with a small one.’

#3 Had better

Ok so these aren’t really modal verbs, but used together they mean the same as should.  It usually suggests that there is a bit more urgency to do something. Click here for more phrases on giving advice!

It can only be used in the present:

‘If we want to catch the 10am train we had better leave now’ (here there is some urgency to leave so that you will be in time to catch the train)

Had better can also be used to make threats:

‘You had better give me your homework by tomorrow, otherwise you will be in trouble!’ 

#2 May well / Might well

This phrase says that there is a high chance of something happening:

‘It might well rain later, so I will take my umbrella’

This can also be used to talk about the fact that there is a high chance that something happened, or has happened, using the form ‘may well have’.

‘Why is John late for the meeting?’

‘He may well have got lost on the way here, the building is difficult to find’

#1 Needs must

This is one of my favourite phrases, meaning that something is necessary to do, even though you probably don’t want to do it.

It is usually used with if.

‘Our suitcases are very heavy, but if needs must we can pay the extra baggage fee at the airport’

This phrase can also be used on its own, especially at the end of a sentence.  Take this example where in order to save money, you must reduce your staff:

‘I don’t really want to cut staff, but needs must I suppose’

If you would like to have any any further examples of these phrases in context, feel free to visit my website at! Click here to check out more useful vocabulary!


 David Cox

 Fluency Space

 Make the world your fluency space. Business English for career and life success

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