Definition of modal in US English:



  • 1Relating to mode or form as opposed to substance.

    • ‘We are determined to achieve further modal shift (from cars to buses) and will continue to develop our services to do this.’
    • ‘In the jargon of transport planners, there has occurred a substantial modal shift in transportation in these cities.’
    • ‘The spokesman said the system was attracting people to public transport: ‘We are seeing quite a lot of modal shift from the car to the tram network.’’
    • ‘He told the meeting: ‘It would be unbelievably crass to introduce a system without any other element of modal shift.’’
    • ‘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.’
  • 2Grammar
    Of or denoting the mood of a verb.

    • ‘Holmes distinguishes two functions of tag questions: modal vs. affective.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘In contrast to the tense distinctions that characterize English, English-based Creoles are said to make a basic modal distinction between realis and irrealis.’
    • ‘One example of the prevalence of the traditional use of modal notions can be found in the early medieval de dicto/de re analysis of examples such as ‘A standing man can sit’.’
    1. 2.1 Relating to a modal verb.
      • ‘Seventy-five Panjabi-speaking pupils were assessed on their expression of the English modal auxiliaries can, could, may, and might.’
      • ‘If the modality concerns a past-time situation, the modal as such does not appear in a past-tense form.’
      • ‘Here a past modal form - would, could, should, might - is usually called for.’
      • ‘The modal auxiliaries or modal verbs are can, could, may, might, shall, should, will would, must.’
  • 3Statistics
    Relating to a mode; occurring most frequently in a sample or population.

    • ‘In the second microdeletion survey, participants examined from as few as 5 cells to as many as 100, but the modal number of cells examined was 20.’
    • ‘Descriptive statistics such as frequencies and modal categories were then calculated for each variable.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘However, if the income variable data were skewed, the median or modal value would be more appropriate.’
    • ‘For both mutations the median and modal values were 25% opaque.’
    • ‘The Nardus root systems had a more normally distributed root length diameter class distribution with a modal diameter range between 0.3 mm and 0.6 mm.’
  • 4Music
    Of or denoting music using melodies or harmonies based on modes other than the ordinary major and minor scales.

    • ‘You knew how to find just the right dreamlike quality for the music, whose harmonic language is neither tonal, nor modal, nor truly chromatic, but a little of all three at the same time.’
    • ‘How might modern Western instruments be transformed for Arab music, say by retuning the piano for microtonal modal systems?’
    • ‘We find also a fascination with Baroque counterpoint and modal melodies from Gregorian chant to Appalachian folk tunes.’
    • ‘There is a good deal of modal harmony, taken from Scandinavian folk music, which is comforting to the ear but far from anodyne.’
    • ‘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.’
  • 5Logic
    (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.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘To see that modal propositional logic is not truth-functional, just consider the following pair of statements.’
    • ‘The study of inferences involving modal operators goes back to Aristotle, and was continued in the Middle Ages.’
    • ‘The three most important parts of this definition for quantified modal logic are the clauses for atomic, quantified, and modal formulas.’
    • ‘His arguments regarding this are presented in which also examines more generally his views on modal logic.’
    • ‘In this connection, I describe certain modal paradoxes and the threats they pose for essentialism.’


  • A modal word or construction.

    • ‘Coastal Southern and Upper South are typified by double modals: She might can do it; Could you may go?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘These complements contain modals and therefore can't be infinitives.’
    • ‘The other students, English majors all, seemed terrified by the prospect of a semester of moods and modals, subordinate clauses and predicate adjectives.’
    • ‘All of these women's raps illustrate that they can do what they are doing, and by this I intend for both readings of the modal ‘can’ to be in effect.’


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