Semi Modal Verbs Examples in English

You must have heard and used words like ought to, dare, need, etc. in your sentences. These are called the Semi-modal auxiliary verbs.

Auxiliary Verbs are helping verbs which are used to express the main verb’s mood, tense or voice. They are of three types: Primary Auxiliary Verbs, Modal Auxiliary Verbs and Semi-Modal Auxiliary Verbs. And here we are going to learn about the Semi-Modal Auxiliary Verbs.

The term might sound a bit complicated, but Semi-modal verbs are simply a replacement of main verbs. They sometimes even use a base form of verbs and create a unique meaning just as the modal auxiliary verbs. They are also referred to as Marginal Modal Verbs. These semi-modal verbs combine with the preposition to express the same things as the main modal verbs.

To understand better, let us first see how a modal auxiliary verb differs from a semi-modal verb.

Modal Auxiliary Verbs and Semi-Modal Auxiliary Verbs

We use modal verbs in our sentences to amend the meaning of verbs for better expression of impressions, such as ability, permission, possibility, necessity, obligation, advice, suggestion, or prediction.

Both a modal verb and a semi-modal verb convey an action or state of the main verb and both of them show mood in the sentence. It becomes a little complicated when we try to use semi-modal verbs to make negative sentences. However, it is easier to turn sentences negative with most modal verbs. In contrast with modals, some semi-modals can even be used as infinitives or participles.

Now let us go through the four major semi-modal auxiliary verbs – ought to, used to, dare, and need.

Ought To

‘Ought’ is always followed by a ‘to’ or ‘not to’. It is said to be a semi-modal verb, as it can act as both a modal verb and the main verb. But it has almost the similar meaning as ‘should’.

We use ‘ought to’ to express moral obligation, duty and advice. The following examples will help you understand better:

  • You ought to respect your parents.
  • We ought not to spend too much time in entertainment.
  • They ought to tell the truth in the court.

Used To

We know that is about the past when someone uses a ‘used to’ in their sentences. It conveys some habitual action that used to be true in the past but no longer in the present. For example,

  • I used to play chess in college.
  • Did he use to tell you everything?
  • My aunt used to call us every Christmas.


Dare simply means to challenge or to have courage. It is used to provoke or incite someone for some action or task. It is also used to threaten. When it is used as a modal along with nobody, anybody or somebody, then ‘to’ is followed by ‘dare’. Like in the following sentences:

  • Nobody dare to question her decision.
  • Dare they oppose me?
  • He dared to ask me to do his homework!


Need is used as a principal verb in most sentences. It is often used in interrogative and negative sentences, too. Need is typically used to state an obligation, requirement, or necessity. Uses can be:

  • I need a new dress for the party.
  • You need not come to the class if you are not interested.
  • Do I need to wait more?

The above four are considered being the most common semi-modal verbs. However, there are more and debated semi-modal verbs that are not clearly put in the list. Here is a list of phrases which possess the features of semi-modal verbs. You will also find examples of their use in sentences. Practice the semi-modal verbs by reading it out loud.

Semi- Modal Verbs Examples
Ought to We ought to exercise daily.
Dare How dare they ask me to go back?
Used to My mother used to bake cookies for us.
Need You need not worry about the refund.
Be going to Joe will be going to the store tomorrow.
Be able to The children will be able to play freely.
Had better She had better take an umbrella.
Had to We had to visit my uncle yesterday.
Must You must be present at the ceremony in the afternoon.
Have got to I have got to make dinner before it gets late.

Quick Links

  1. Types of Modal Auxiliary Verbs