May 23, 2024

Use of Can – Modals

Use of Can

‘Can’ shows ability and cannot( can’t) expresses inability.

Subject + can + verb + object + etc.

  • I can speak two foreign languages.  
  • She can’t solve the puzzle.
  • I can drive a lorry.
  • He can play the guitar.
  • They can win the race
  • I can defeat him in a race.
  • You cannot lend him money.

Use of Can and Could in the present, past, future

  • Can and could (able to) both are used to express ability (present, past, and future):
  • You can play the piano well.  (is able to)
  • I could solve the Sudoku puzzle.  (was able to)
  • He will be able to solve the puzzles.   ( future of can)
  • He has been able to solve the physics numeric. ( perfect of ‘can’).
  • Note: be able to or be capable of is used in the place of ‘can’.


  • She is able to speak French.
  • He was able to fight with them.
  • She will be able to pass the exams.
  • My brother is capable of speaking German.
  • Poonam was capable of speaking in front of the students.
  • Pankaj Som was capable of teaching mathematics.

Sometimes we use ‘can’ in the sense of (may) to give permission. “May” is more formal than “use of Can”

  • She can go now, or she may go now.
  • You can buy vegetables from this shop.
  • Can I go to granny’s home?
  • Can I see your novel?
  • You can choose any jeans, or you may choose any jeans.
  • Can I go, or may I go?
  • Note: these kinds of sentences are used in the sense of be allowed to/be permitted to.


  • She is allowed to enter the class.
  • They are permitted to go now at once.
  • She is permitted to join our group.
  • You are allowed to play with girls.

Can and could  express Possibility or uncertainty:


  • It can be very hot in summer (=it is sometimes very hot in summer)
  • You are above fifty. You can forget your keys (= old aged people often forget keys.)
  • Don’t go from this road, you can trap in traffic here. (= the road which often is used by vehicles may have traffic there).


  • you could come on time if you got up early.
  • You could pass the exams. But you were sick.
  • Who is he with Shalu? He could be her husband.      (Possibly he is)
  • What’s her age?  She could be eighteen. (Possibly she is)
  • Note: Can is used to express theoretical possibility:            
  • Everyone can forget.
  • Everyone can make a mistake.
  • Everyone can learn what is required.
  • Prohibition/offer:
  • She cannot play chess with us.      (prohibition)
  • He cannot enter college.                  (prohibition)
  • Can I lend you money?                     (Offer)
  • Can I pay your bill?                            (Offer)
  • Can I bring some novels for you?    (Offer)
  • Can I help you in lifting your grass? (offer)

Exercise – “Use of can”

Fill in the blanks with the appropriate auxiliary verbs:

  1.  ……….  You speak English in assembly?   (can/may/could)
  2.  ……….. he beat you?     (can/may)
  3.  ………. You lend me some money please?   (can/could/may)
  4.  He …….. lift 100 kg. weight now.   (can’t/couldn’t)
  5.  She doesn’t have money. She …….  Help you.   (cannot/could not)
  6.  Everyone ……. Run.    (can’t/couldn’t)
  7.  She says that she ……… solve the puzzle.    (can/could)
  8. My father said that I ……… Pass the IAS interview.   (can’t/couldn’t)
  9. An innocent person …….. cheat you.   (can’t/couldn’t/mayn’t)
  10. ……… I have you pen?   (can/could)
  11. He ……….  speak English.   (is able to /are able to)
  12. They …….. permitted to go now.   (is/are/am/was/were)
  13. ………. She buy a Ferrari car?   (could/can)
  14. He …….. allowed to go then.   (is/are/was)
  15. ……. Your brother capable to learn how to fight now? (is/are/was/were/can)

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