April 20, 2012


Modal verbs are verbs which are qualified according to some modality. For instance, in English, modal auxiliaries are generally used to indicate modality, such as “could”, “would”, “should”, “may”, “might”, etc.

This article will list all of the major English modalities and explain how to translate them into Hindi.


In English, the auxiliary “should” has several usages, including:

  • Obligation
  • Probability
  • Subjunctives / Conditionals


“Should” may indicate obligation: “You should help your friends”.

In Hindi, this is easy to translate using चाहिये.

आपको अपने दोस्तों की मदद करनी चाहिये – “You should help your friends”

Alternatively, चाहिये can be used with subordinate clauses instead of infinitives, as follows:

आपको चाहिये कि अपने दोस्तों की मदद करें – “You should help your friends”

This idiom can be expressed in the past tense simply by appending a past tense form of होना:

आपको अपने दोस्तों की मदद करनी चाहिये थी – “You should have helped your friends”

Read the article about चाहिये for more information.


“Should” can express probability or expectation, as in “Ask David, he should be able to help you”, i.e. “He is probably able to help you”.

In Hindi, there are several ways to express probability.

One way is to simply use the adverb शायद, which can mean “probably” when used with the indicative mood.

शायद वह आपकी मदद कर सकता है – “He can probably help you”


“Should” can be used in some English dialects to indicate the subjunctive mood and can be used in conditional sentences.

For instance, “It is important that he should study well”. In this example, “should” is used in the subordinate clause to indicate the subjunctive mood, instead of using the indicative mood, as in “it is important that he studies well”.

“Should” can be used in conditional sentences also. For instance, “If it should rain, then we will not be able to play outside”, or “Should it rain, we cannot play outside”. Alternatively, one could say “If it rains…”.

Thus, such sentences are simply translated as their equivalent sentences without “should”, and so they don’t warrant any special attention. One example is as follows:

अगर आज बारिश हो तो हम बाहर नहीं खेल पाएँगे – “If it rains today, then we won’t be able to play outside”

Refer to the articles about the subjunctive mood and conditional sentences for more information.


In English, “could” may have several usages:

  • Past Ability
  • Past Permission
  • Present Possibility
  • Present Conditions
  • Polite Requests

Past Ability

“Could” may indicate past ability.

A past ability may be habitual, as in: “I could play the piano, but I can’t now.”

This can be translated into Hindi using a past habitual verb form:

मैं पिआनो बजा सकता था लेकिन अब मैं पिआनो नहीं बजा सकता हूँ – “I could play the piano, but now I can’t” / “I used to be able to play the piano …”

A past ability does not need to be habitual though:

मैं नहीं जा सका – “I could not go” – “I was not able to go”

To indicate a past ability that is not negated, “could have” is used: “I could have watched the movie, but I did some work instead.”

In Hindi, such a past ability can be translated as follows:

मैं मूवी देख सकता था लेकिन मैं कुछ काम किया – “I could have watched the movie, but I did some work”