How to use the modal verbs “can” and “could” in English
You might think that “could” is just the past tense form of “can”, but English isn’t that simple! Modal verbs are tricky, but with a little practice, you’ll be an expert in no time.
Read carefully through the tables below to see the different ways “can” and “could” are used, then comment below to see if you can correct the mistakes!
|Can||To ask to be allowed to do something||Can I use the toilet?|
|Could||To ask to be allowed to do something (more polite)||Could I leave early today?|
|Can||To give somebody permission to do something||You can take as many cookies as you like.|
|Cannot/can’t||To deny somebody permission to do something||You can’t play video games until you’ve finished your homework!|
|Can||Describe what is possible in general||It can rain a lot in England|
|Cannot/can’t||Describe what is not possible in general||People can’t fly.|
|Could||Describe what is possible in general in the past||It could be difficult to travel abroad before the airplane was invented.|
|Could not/couldn’t||Describe what is not possible in general in the past||Human’s couldn’t watch TV thousands of years ago.|
|Describe what is possible in the future||Australia could win the World Cup next year.|
|Can||Describe somebody’s ability or skill||I can speak five languages.|
|Cannot/can’t||Describe somebody’s ability or skill (negatively)||He cannot dance very well.|
|Could||Describe somebody’s ability or skill in the past||My father could run 100m in 11 seconds when he was my age.|
|Could not/couldn’t||Describe somebody’s ability or skill in the past (negatively)||I couldn’t speak confidently in public when I was younger.|
|Requests and offers|
|Can||To ask somebody to do something||Can you pass me the mayonnaise?|
|Could||To ask somebody to do something (more polite)||Could you repeat that please?|
|Can||To offer something||I can give you a lift home later|
|Could||To offer something (less strong)||I could meet you after work.|
|Can||To offer something with a question||Can I help you with anything today sir?|
Here are five sentences in English. Two of them are incorrect!
Comment below with which sentences are wrong and try to correct them yourself.
1) I couldn’t speak English until I was 10 years old.
2) I can go to Japan if I had enough money.
3) It could rain next weekend.
4) Cannot they join us later?
5) I can lend you five euros until next time we meet.-Share this page-