Modal verbs are used for prohibition. These situations are the opposite of giving permission. This modal verbs for prohibition lesson shows you how to use may and can to prohibit someone or create rules. Links to the exercises are at the bottom of the page.
The modal verbs used are May and Can. They are used as negatives:
- Must not
- May not
Can’t is the most common way to prohibit something in English. It is not as formal as must not or may not, but it is the most common. Here are some examples:
- You can’t drive here.
- You can’t wear a hat in class.
- You can’t smoke in the office.
Can’t is normally used to show inability, but in these examples it shows prohibition. It is like you are saying you do not have the ability because of the rules.
You could also ask questions about the rules:
- Can I smoke in here?
- Can I park my car here?
Now, let’s look at two more formal ways to prohibit something.
May not is the formal way to prohibit something. Here are some examples:
- You may not smoke in this house.
- You may not wear shoes in the office.
- You may not eat in the conference room.
Like can, you could ask questions about the rules with may:
- May I smoke here?
- May I eat in this room?
Because may is the most formal, you will often see it in writing. Finally, let’s look at the strongest way to prohibit something.
This is the third way you can prohibit an action or make a rule against something. Here are some examples:
- You must not use a cell phone.
- You must not write with pencil.
- You must not play music.
Unlike the first two examples, you cant ask questions about rules with must.
These are the two modal verbs you can use for prohibition. Do you think you are ready to try some of the exercises?
Modal Verbs for Prohibition Exercises