1. Modal Verb Placement
  2. Können – Can
  3. Müssen – Have to/Must
  4. Wollen – Want to and Möchten – Would Like to
  5. Dürfen – Be allowed to/May
  6. Sollen – Ought to/Should

Modal verbs are helper verbs that are most often used in with the main verb in the sentence. They must be conjugated just like regular verbs.

Modal verbs can change the context of a statement, but not the action itself.



Sie sollte eine Ärztin sein.

She should be a doctor.

Modal Verb Placement

Rule 1: We can place modal verbs in two positions:

- The modal verb is usually the first conjugated in the sentence.

- The main, or the "full" verb to the end of the sentence in its infinitive form.



Ich kann auf Deutsch lesen.

I can read in German.

Rule 2: In colloquial speech, in the main verb is obvious from the context, it can be left out.



Kannst du Deutsch (sprechen)?

Can you speak German? (Do you know German?)

Können – Can

Rule 3: The modal verb können can be used to express an assumption, a polite request, a suggestion, possibility and impossibility, ability and incapacity, or permission or prohibition.

Here is how it is conjugated:

ich kann
du kannst
er kann
wir können
ihr könnt
sie können



Ich kann Klavier spielen.

I can play the piano.

Du kannst hier nicht parken.

You cannot park here.

Müssen Have to/Must

Rule 4: The modal verb müssen is used to express a need, a command, or a task.

Here is its present tense conjugation:

ich muss
du musst
er muss
wir müssen
ihr müsst
sie müssen

Wollen Want to and Möchten Would Like to

Rule 5: The modal verb wollen is used to express a wish, a will, an intention or a refusal. It can be a little too straightforward, so if we want to be polite, we use möchten instead.

Here is how it is conjugated in the present tense:

ich will ich möchte
du willst du möchtest
er will er möchte
wir wollen wir möchten
ihr wollt ihr möchtet
sie wollen sie möchten



Papa, ich will ein Eis (essen)!

Daddy, I want (to eat) ice cream! (very demanding)

Papa, ich möchte ein Eis (essen).

Dad, I would like (to eat) ice cream. (polite)

Note: "möchten" is actually the subjunctive 2 of the German verb "mögen" (to like). However, "mögen" is only used as a normal strong verb and no longer as a modal verb.

Rule 6: In the past tense, only wollen is used.

Dürfen – Be allowed to/May

Rule 7: The modal verb dürfen is used to express permission or prohibition, a presumption, or a polite request for permission.

Here is the present tense conjugation of this modal verb:

ich darf
du darfst
er darf
wir dürfen
ihr dürft
sie dürfen



Er darf meinen Computer benutzen.

He's allowed to use my computer.

Sollen Ought to/Should

Rule 8: The modal verb sollen is used to express an order, a recommendation, an advice, or an assumption.

Here is its present tense conjugation:

ich soll
du sollst
er soll
wir sollen
ihr sollt
sie sollen