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How to Use Modal Verbs for Business

There are a lot of things you can do in a business setting to make sure you’re communicating appropriately. We’ve talked about a few of these things in recent posts, including asking indirect questions and expressing your disagreement in a respectful way. 

But there’s more: Another great part of clear and professional business communication is the use of modal verbs. In this article, we’ll discuss how to use modal verbs to express your ideas in the workplace.

What is a modal verb? 

Modal verbs are also known as auxiliary verbs or “helping” verbs. We use them along with a main verb to express ideas like possibility, obligation, and permission.

Here are the main modal verbs you’re likely to use in workplace situations:

Abilitycan/could/be able toI can finish that report tonight. 
Advice shouldYou should reserve the meeting room immediately.
Obligationmust/have to/need toWe have to record our hours every day.
Permissioncan/could/mayYou may wear casual clothing to work on Fridays.
Possibilitymight/may/could/can/shouldThe IT department might be able to fix your computer.

How to use modal verbs for business

Modal verbs are used all the time in the workplace for various reasons, such as speaking politely, making requests, suggesting ideas, making plans, offering help and advice, and more.

Let’s look at some more specific workplace scenarios in which modal verbs might be used, along with some examples. 

Making presentations

→ I’d like to get started; may I ask everyone to take a seat?

→ Could everyone look at the figures on this slide? 

→ Everyone must attend the safety briefing today—it’s not optional!

Having meetings 

→ This meeting shouldn’t be too long; we’ll be out of here in 20 minutes.

We have to discuss your performance review this afternoon. 

Should we order lunch for the staff meeting?

Talking to your manager

May I have the morning off for a dental appointment? 

→ I could help the trainees set up their workstations if you’d like. 

Should I follow up with the client by phone or by email?

Speaking to your staff

Could you submit the sales report by Friday? 

→ Everyone must remember to log out at the end of the day. 

→ Are you able to come in an hour earlier tomorrow? 

Talking with your colleagues

I need to find someone to host the networking event with me—are you interested?

Can you show me how to use the new software? I wasn’t at the training. 

→ I might be able to take your shift next Tuesday.

Dealing with clients/customers

May I confirm your full name and address, please? 

→ My business partner and I would love to meet with you to discuss your needs—could we set up a time? 

→ You’re a valued client. I think I’ll be able to give you a better deal on that order! 

Interviewing someone

Could you tell me more about your experience in the tech industry? 

→ We’d love to hire you. Are you able to start immediately? 

→ Before I make a final decision, I need to check your references. 

Keep it professional with modals 

Modal verbs have many uses in a business context, from speaking to team members and clients to hosting meetings and presentations. Use modals to help you express yourself clearly and professionally in every interaction!

Ready to learn more about boosting your communication skills? Give Gabby a try!

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.