Next up in our series on modal verbs are can and could.
Let’s start with can. Remember that can + not = cannot or can’t.
Can is used to express ability (or inability) in the present tense.
We can practice our English online with ETO.
They can’t feel confident speaking English until they practice.
Can is used to make informal* requests for the present and future.
Honey, can you come here, please? I need some help with preparing dinner.
Can you come to my soccer game on the 5th of March?
Can is used to ask informally (in an informal way) for permission, and to give (or refuse) permission informally.
Mom, can I go outside when I finish my homework?
No, you can’t. First, I need to practice my English conversation with you for five minutes.
After that, you can go.
Informal speech is usually made to close family or friends.
Honey is a nickname (a special name) that many English speaking people use to refer to their romantic partners and/or children.
Soccer is used to describe football in the United States and Canada, as American and Canadian football were more popular in these countries first.
Now, on to could.
Could is used to express ability in the past tense.
You should have seen your father when he was at university! He was so hungry that he could eat a whole pizza by himself!
He could understand English, but he couldn’t speak well until he practiced his conversation.
Could is used to make formal requests.
Could you please pass the sea salt?
I’m running late. Could you meet me at 8 pm instead of 7:30?
Please note that we can also use would in place of could in these examples. You can see our blog on Will vs. Would for more information.
Could is used to formally (in a formal way) ask for permission
Could I take your coat?
I noticed that you are getting ready to play basketball. Could I play with you guys?
We can also use may to replace could for these examples, and to give permission formally, we will always use may. For example, we would answer the first question formally by saying, “Yes, you may.”
For more details, visit our blog on May vs. Might
Formal speech is made to elders, people we do not know very well, and when we want to show extra respect.
Running late is a phrase that means someone is behind schedule, or taking longer than expected.
Take your coat is a phrase that means to put your coat in a special place when you come inside.
Finally, could is also used to describe a situation when we have the ability to do something, but we choose not to do it.
I could play basketball this evening, but I think that I will do yoga instead.
I could take a nap, but I’d rather go get some exercise.
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