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When do we use can and could? English Grammar Explanations

by Sep 26, 2019English Grammar Tips, English Time Ask Elo

When do we use can and could

When do we use can and could? English Grammar Explanations

When do we use can and could

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When do we use can and could?

Asked by @ Elina Isak (Community Student)

What are modal verbs

Answered by @ Elo Kasia

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When do we use can and could

 

CAN or COULD | The Difference Between CAN and COULD | Modal Verbs in English Grammar

 

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TO BE with expressions of obligation, request and command

 

When do we use can and could Question Time: When do we use can and could?

 

When do we use can and could  @ Elina Isak , Thank you for your question

When do we use can and could  As usual, I will try to explain the difference using simple language and plenty of examples.

 

Can and could are modal verbs and they can be used in many situations and contexts.
 
 
Can and could are most often used to express ability or possibility to do something.
 
 
Can is used in the present:

 

–  express ability (I know how to do something)
 
  • I can play the piano. My sister can play the violin.
  • Abed can speak English but he cannot (can’t) speak Italian.
  • Can you swim? Yes, I can.
 
 
possibility to do something (it is possible for me to do something)
 
  • I can help you with your homework if you want.
  • Can you come to my party? Sorry, I can’t. I’m working.
  • Can you speak up? I can’t hear you.
 
 
Could/ couldn’t is used in the same situations when speaking about the past (yesterday/ last year/ when I was young, etc.)
 
  • I could play the piano when I was a child but I’ve forgotten it all.
  • When Abed arrived in London 2 years ago he couldn’t speak any English.
  • Is it true that you could swim 5km when you were young?
  • I couldn’t come to the party. I was working.
  • I couldn’t hear what she said.
 
Can and could are also used for polite requests, or to ask for permission. Could is generally more polite and formal than can.
 
  • Can you open the window, please? Or Could you open the window, please?
  • Can I have some stamps, please? Or Could I have some stamps, please? (in a shop)
  • Can I borrow this book, please? Or Could I borrow this book, please?
  • Can I speak to Linda, please? Or Could I speak to Linda, please? (on the phone)
 
 
These are the most common uses of can and could and you are most likely to have already come across them.
 
 
Less frequent uses of can and could include:
 
Can’t is used to say that something is forbidden or not allowed
 
  • We cannot park in the city centre.
  • We can’t use mobile phones in class.
  • You can’t smoke in the restaurant.
  • You cannot drive a car without a valid license.
 
Can’t is used for making deductions when you are sure that something isn’t true or something is surprising.
 
  • It can’t be Lisa! She’s changed so much. (present)
  • They can’t have arrived by train, the station is closed. (past)
 
(Just like can’t, you can use couldn’t when you are sure that something isn’t true or real.
 
  • That couldn’t be my neighbour arriving home, he is away on business. (present)
  • He couldn’t have taken your bag. He wasn’t even in the room (past).
 
Could + have + past participle: to say that something was possible but did not happen.
 
  • She could have married any man she wanted but she chose me.
  • We are lucky to be alive, we could have had a serious accident.
  • Why did you do that? You could have broken your leg.

 

Start from practising the most common uses of can and could. Say what you can do.I can … (swim, speak English, dance, play an instrument, etc.). Practise can /could in a shop situation: Can/ Could I have a/ some …, please? Or make polite requests: Can/ could you … open the door, help me, give me, pass me, lend me …etc. Or ask for permission Can I … come with you, close the window, borrow, etc.
 
 
Make sure you follow our *TT exercises to practise the different uses of can and could.

 

Check my other articles here: All English Time Ask Elo – Learning Articles

 

When do we use can and could Elo Kasia

Community Mentor for English Grammar and Speaking Academy“.

Founder of When do we use can and could Chatsifieds.com

Director at Eloquent Learning Online, educational institution based in the UK. www.eloquentlearning.com.

When do we use can and could

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