Modal Verb Can (Could)

The modal verb can has two tense forms of the indicative mood: the present tense can and the past tense could.

Can: forms

  • Affirmative (+) form (I can, I could)
  • Negative (−) form (I can’t, cannot))
  • Question (?) form (Can I borrow your pen?)

The verb can has the following meanings:

1. Mental, physical or circumstantial ability to do something.

  • She can do sums in her head
  • He can lift this suitcase

Note: When could is used with reference to the past, it de­notes only the ability or possibility of performing an action but not the realisation of the action.

To indicate the achievement in the past we use was/were able to do smth, managed to do sth or succeeded in doing sth (the latter is used in literary style):

  • I’m happy I was able to help you 
  • They will be able to do it next year.

If an action was not realised in a particular situation in the past it is expressed with the help of failed to do smth, wasn’t able to do smth, didn’t manage to do smth, didn’t succeed in doing.

  • We didn’t succeed in translating the text

2.Permission (informal)

  • You can take my book

3.Request (informal)

  • Can I go out?
  • Could you help us?

4. Prohibition (informal)

  • You can’t cross the street here

5. Uncertainty, strong doubt, astonishment (in interroga¬tive sentences). In these meanings can is used with all forms of 6 the infinitive. Could expresses greater doubt. Thus, the time-reference is indicated by the form of the infinitive.

  • Can/Could it be true?

Can with a perfect continuous infinitive expresses actions which began in the past and continued up or into the present moment:

  • Can (could) she have been talking on the telephone so long?

6. Improbability, strong doubt (in negative sentences)

  • It can’t/couldn’t be true

Modal Verbs


Spread the love
error: Content is protected !!