25 Modals of Ability – Can

Verbs

A Modal Verb is a type of auxiliary (helping) verb that has no meaning on its own but it modifies the main verb, changes its meaning and gives more details about action.

The verb Can is a Modal Verb used to express the idea of ability or opportunity, to talk about the possibility or impossibility of an event or action to happen and to ask or give permission.

The modal verb Can is used as an auxiliary verb and these are its three forms:

Affirmative

The Affirmative form of the verb can has this structure:
Subject + “can”
 + verb.

SUBJECT VERB CAN
VERB
I can work
You can work
He can work
She can work
It can work
We can work
You can work
They can work

Negative

The Negative form of the verb can has this structure:
Subject + “can” + not + verb.*

SUBJECT MODAL VERB [CAN + NOT] VERB
SHORT FORM
I cannot work can’t
You cannot work can’t
He cannot work can’t
She cannot work can’t
It cannot work can’t
We cannot work can’t
You cannot work can’t
They cannot work can’t

*The verb can is an exception in forming the negative and it is written together with “not”: cannot (can not is incorrect)

Interrogative

The Interrogative form of the verb can has this structure:
“Can” + subject + verb +…?

VERB SUBJECT VERB
QUESTION MARK
Can I work …?
Can you work …?
Can he work …?
Can she work …?
Can it work …?
Can we work …?
Can you work …?
Can they work …?
  1. Ability
    • She can play the piano.
    • She cannot play the piano.
    • Can she play the piano?
  2. Possibility
    • My wife can go to Milano this summer.
  3. Request
    • Can you open the window, please?
  4. Permission
    • My children can stay at the party.
    • My children cannot stay at the party.
  5. Opportunity
    • We can stay at his place for a week!
  6. General truth
    • Parks can be dangerous.
  7. Reproaches
    • Can’t you just tell him your marital status?
  8. Offers
    • Can we help you and your husband?

We use Can when we talk about:

  1. Abilities: To ability to do something;
  2. Possibilities: To talk about possible situations;
  3. Requests: To demand something;
  4. Permission: To ask or give permission;
  5. Opportunity: To express the chance to do something;
  6. General truth: To talk about things that are usually true;
  7. Reproaches: To tell someone what we want him to do;
  8. Offers: To make offers.

We use the Modal Verb Can to express the idea of ability or permission. We can use Can in all three forms (Affirmative, Negative, Interrogative).

  • AffirmativeSubject + “can” (the form is always the same, even for the third person);
  • NegativeSubject + “can” + not;
  • Interrogative: “can” + subject + base form of the verb + …?

For example:
Affirmative: She can play the piano.” = This is the Affirmative form and it’s used to confirm that the subject, in this case, is able to do something.
Negative: “She can’t play the piano.” = This is the Negative form and it’s used to deny that the subject, in this case, is able to do something.
Interrogative: “Can she play the piano?” = This is the Interrogative form and is used to ask question if the subject, in this case, is able to do something.

Let’s revise this content within the [Form] section. Take a look at the [Example] section that shows its use within a context.