Modal verbs

There are four of them:  kunnen (can), moeten (must), mogen (may), willen (want)
They all are irregular and I should learn all the forms by heart.

kunnen (can, be able to, be possible to. P.p: gekund)

ik kan wij kunnen
jij kan/kunt jullie kunnen
u kan/kunt u kan/kunt
hij kan zij kunnen

Both jij kan and jij kunt are used frequently.
When inverted: jij kunt → kun jij


moeten (must, have to. P.p: gemoeten)

ik moet wij moeten
jij moet jullie moeten
u moet u moet
hij moet zij moeten

The jij form does not change when inverted!

Ik moet gaan
 — I must go.
Moet ik naar school gaan? — Do I have to go to school?


mogen (mayb, be allowed to. P.p.: gemogen)

ik mag wij mogen
jij mag jullie mogen
u mag u mag
hij mag zij mogen

willen (want. P.p: gewild)

ik wil wij willen
jij wilt jullie willen
u wilt u wilt
hij wil zij willen

The jij form drops the ending -t when inverted: wil jij?


Hij kan het goed. — “do” is implied — He can do it well
Ik moet wel. — I must, I have got to.
Wij willen het wel. — We want to (do it).


Kunnen, moeten and mogen have the following impersonal construction: het/dat + verb:

Dat kan. — That is possible, that can be done.
Het moet. — It must be done.
Dat mag. — It’s allowed. Or it can also be translated as “you may”.


Past participle of a modal verb

Here’s an excerpt from dutchgrammar.com (click the link for more useful information on auxiliary and modal verbs):  “A verb that is not an auxiliary verb, is called an independent verb.  In general, a phrase has exactly one independent verb. This verb is used to specify the action of the sentence.  If there are any other verbs, those are auxiliary verbs. These verbs are used to indicate when or how the specified action takes place (presently, in the future, voluntarily, compulsory, possibly, etc.).”

The past participle of a modal verb occurs only if a verb is used independently:
Hij heeft het niet gekund. — He couldn’t.
Ik heb het niet gemoeten. — I didn’t have to.
Wij hebben het gemogen. — We were allowed to.
Zij heeft het niet gewild. — She didn’t want to.

Gemoeten and gemogen aren’t used very often.


When a modal verb is used together with another verb, the modal verb agrees with the subject, while another verb is always an infinitive:
Zij kunnen morgen niet komen.
Zij moet vanavond vroeg naar huis gaan.
U mag hier niet roken.
Ik wil met de auto gaan.

The modal verb is always second item in a sentence, and the infinitive is always the last one.

To ask a question the subject and the modal verb should be swapped. The infinitive should be left where it was:
Moet zij vanavond vroeg naar huis gaan?
Kunnen jullie morgen naar mijn huis komen?


If the perfect tense of a modal verb is needed, while used together with another verb, the past participle of the modal verb is replaced by the infinitive. Now the perfect tense auxiliary verb hebben takes the second position and agrees with the subject:

Ik heb gisteren kunnen komen. — I was able to come yesterday.
Dat heeft zij altijd willen doen. — She has always wanted to do that.

The modal verb (the infinitive) now occupies the position right before the infinitive, which goes last.

To make a question hebben and the subject should be swapped, but the two infinitives in the end remain intact:
Heeft zij dat altijd willen doen? — Has she always wanted to do that?

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