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Watch and read: modal verbs

Watch and / or read the explanation and examples on this part of Dutch grammar: modal verbs. Also: learn how to practice Dutch grammar.

Watch the video about modal verbs and read the explanation below.

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are used to complement another verb, the action verb.

For example

Ik kan niet hardlopen. I cannot run.
Mag ik hier zitten? Can I sit here?
Zullen we samen eten? Shall we eat together?


In Dutch there are five main modal verbs:

kunnen possibility, ability (to be able to, can)
moeten obligation (to have to, must)
mogen permission (to be allowed to, may)
willen desire (to want)
zullen promise, offer (will, would, should)


Modal verbs are sometimes conjugated irregularly:

person/verb kunnen mogen moeten willen zullen
ik kan mag moet wil zal
jij-je-u kunt/kan mag moet wilt/wil zult/zal
hij-zij-het kan mag moet wil zal
wij-we kunnen mogen moeten willen zullen
jullie kunnen mogen moeten willen zullen
zij-ze kunnen mogen moeten willen zullen

Kunnen, mogen and zullen have a change of vowel in the singular form: ik kan, ik mag, ik zal.

The third person singular does not have a -t at the end of the verb: hij wil, hij mag.

The second person singular of kunnen, willen and zullen has two alternative forms, for example je kan, je kunt. Both are correct and commonly used.

Word order

The word order in a sentence with a modal verb is as follows:

subject – modal verb – rest – action verb

For example:

Ik kan niet hardlopen. I cannot run.
Ik wil graag betalen. I would like to pay.

And with inversion:

Over een half uur moet ik sporten. In half an hour I have to exercise.
Misschien kun je met mij lopen. Maybe you can walk with me.

The modal verb is always in the second position and the action verb is always at the end.

With a yes/no question:

Mag ik hier zitten? Can I sit here?
Zullen we samen eten? Shall we eat together?

Practise with Quizlet

Would you like to practise Dutch grammar? Please visit our grammar section on modal verbs on Quizlet (if you prefer Quizlet to open in a separate window, click the CTRL key while clicking the link).

Do you have any questions about Dutch grammar? Follow the links below for more information. Share your comments and questions in the discussion below.

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Introduction to Dutch

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