Kunnen, mogen, moeten, willen, zullen or zouden: the difference
When do we use which modal verb and how do you conjugate these verbs?
Let's take a stereotype fairy tale. The prince wants to dance with a girl. The most logic question in this situation would be Wil je met me dansen?. But what if we replace wil by another verb?
willen: to want
- Do you want to dance with me?
- I'm not in the mood to dance. I don't want it.
The forms jij wil, wou and wouden are less formal.
kunnen: to can, to be able
- Can you (are you able to) dance with me?
- No, I can't.
Kan je? and Kun je? are both correct.
mogen: to may, to be allowed
- Are you allowed to dance with me?
- Hi mum, a prince wants to dance with me. Do you think that's okay? - Sorry, my mother doesn't allow me to dance...
moeten: to must, to have to, to be obliged
- Do you have to dance with me?
- Yes, I have to dance with you. It's in my contract.
zullen: to will (future)
- Will you dance with me?
- Let's have look... in 2029 we will dance together.
Zal je? and Zul je? are both correct.
zouden: would (conditional)
zouden willen = would
zouden moeten = should
zouden kunnen = could
- Would you dance with me, if I were a prince?
- No! Even if you were a prince, I wouldn't dance with you!