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Spanish modal verbs

Spanish modal verbs

There are 5 modal verbs in Spanish, but do you know how to differentiate them and how to use each one? Enforex helps you use the Spanish modal verbs.

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Do you know what are the modal verbs in Spanish? Surely you know that in English they include must, can, may and should, but do you know what their equivalents are in Spanish? If you are just starting to learn Spanish and need a boost with the verbs, Enforex helps you with this article about Spanish modal verbs.

What is the function of Spanish modal verbs?

Spanish modal verbs are followed by an infinitive and contribute meaning to the sentence, unlike auxiliary verbs. There are only five modal verbs in Spanish: deber, querer, saber, poder and soler.

These verbs express the speaker's attitude towards an action and express obligation, will, knowledge, permission, possibility, probability, or reiteration. All of them can acquire a different meaning depending on whether they are used in the affirmative or in the negative.

In addition, some Spanish verbs that are part of modal verbs can also be found as verbal periphrases. These are: deber de, tener que and haber que.

On the other hand, in Spanish there are other verbs that are used as modals, also followed by an infinitive. These express the intention, desire or will of the speaker to do something. The most common are: intentar, desear, pensar, procurar, esperar or preferir.

Although from Enforex we help you with the five most common Spanish modal verbs, their meanings, and some examples.


The verb deber is used to express obligation, recommendation, or assumption. Here are some examples:

This Spanish modal verb also functions as a verbal periphrasis, deber de, which expresses deduction, both positively and negatively. For example: 'Deben de hacer los deberes antes de clase’ (They must do their homework before class) or 'No debe de saber que es festive mañana’ (They must not know that it's a holiday tomorrow).

Modal verbs in Spanish


Querer as a Spanish modal verb is used to express desire, intention or will. For example:


The verb saber is used to express knowledge, skill, or ability. Here are some examples:


This verb is used to indicate ability, possibility, or permission to do an action. Examples with poder:


The verb soler is used to express custom or habit. Here are some examples:

Tener que

The verbal periphrasis tener que indicates obligation or necessity as a modal verb in Spanish. For example:

Spanish modal verbs

Haber que

Haber que is impersonal and, as a verbal periphrasis, means obligation or necessity. Some examples of this Spanish modal verb are:

Although it may seem that the modal verbs 'tener que' and 'haber que' are the same, they have several nuances that differentiate them. In the case of 'haber que', the sentences formed are impersonal, in the third person plural and indicate actions for a general audience. While the verb 'tener que' forms personal sentences in the first, second or third person and is always addressed to someone. You can see it in the examples above and in these:

All these Spanish modal verbs are essential for building complex sentences and conveying precise ideas. During your Spanish learning it is essential that you practice and test your knowledge. So don't hesitate and join one of our Spanish courses in Spain to practice with qualified teachers and students of your level the Spanish modal verbs.

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