Definition of modal in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈməʊd(ə)l/


1Relating to mode or form as opposed to substance.
Example sentences
  • In the jargon of transport planners, there has occurred a substantial modal shift in transportation in these cities.
  • The objective of integrated public transport is clear - to achieve a high transit modal share with a seamless service using two or more modes.
  • That is, a person's income does not vary by mode unless it is defined as net of modal costs.
2 Grammar Of or denoting the mood of a verb.
Example sentences
  • However, it's crucial that the second part of such a sentence (the apodosis of the conditional) normally also has a modal preterite, often would or could or might, but not will or can or may.
  • Holmes distinguishes two functions of tag questions: modal vs. affective.
  • In contrast to the tense distinctions that characterize English, English-based Creoles are said to make a basic modal distinction between realis and irrealis.
2.1Relating to a modal verb.
Example sentences
  • The modal auxiliaries or modal verbs are can, could, may, might, shall, should, will would, must.
  • Seventy-five Panjabi-speaking pupils were assessed on their expression of the English modal auxiliaries can, could, may, and might.
  • Here a past modal form - would, could, should, might - is usually called for.
3 Statistics Relating to a value that occurs most frequently in a given set of data.
Example sentences
  • For both mutations the median and modal values were 25% opaque.
  • However, if the income variable data were skewed, the median or modal value would be more appropriate.
  • These distributions for the variance components imply an a priori distribution of heritability and repeatability with respective modal values of 0.15 and 0.23.
4 Music Of or denoting music using melodies or harmonies based on modes other than the ordinary major and minor scales.
Example sentences
  • We find also a fascination with Baroque counterpoint and modal melodies from Gregorian chant to Appalachian folk tunes.
  • Its three highly creative pieces use alternating meters, compelling ostinatos, modal harmonies and, above all, unexpected twists and turns as the ‘plot’ of each piece unfolds.
  • How might modern Western instruments be transformed for Arab music, say by retuning the piano for microtonal modal systems?
5 Logic (Of a proposition) in which the predicate is affirmed of the subject with some qualification, or which involves the affirmation of possibility, impossibility, necessity, or contingency.
Example sentences
  • Let the letter ‘M’ represent this operator, and add to the axioms of classical propositional logic the modal axiom M (p v q) iff Mp v Mq.
  • In this connection, I describe certain modal paradoxes and the threats they pose for essentialism.
  • The three most important parts of this definition for quantified modal logic are the clauses for atomic, quantified, and modal formulas.


A modal word or construction.
Example sentences
  • These preferences often serve to clarify, but a less deft handling leads to tercets like the following, their force buried under prepositions, pronouns and modals.
  • The other students, English majors all, seemed terrified by the prospect of a semester of moods and modals, subordinate clauses and predicate adjectives.
  • These complements contain modals and therefore can't be infinitives.



Example sentences
  • She habitually does it as part of her routine, which is defined by the co-existence of ontologically and modally different realities.
  • ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘The Pasture’ sport two marvelous tunes, both modally inflected in a way that may remind some listeners of Vaughan Williams.
  • Thus, when I say that Peter is a man, the thought by which I think of Peter differs modally from the thought by which I think of man, but in Peter himself being a man is nothing other than being Peter.


Mid 16th century (in sense 5 of the adjective): from medieval Latin modalis, from Latin modus (see mode).

Words that rhyme with modal

Gödel, yodel

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: modal

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.