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Unit 5.1

Can: Modals of Ability

Modal 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 the action.

The verb can is a modal verb used to express the idea of ability or opportunity, to express the possibility or impossibility of an event or action happening and to ask for or give permission.

The modal verb can is used as an auxiliary verb and has three forms:

Affirmative

Its structure, in the affirmative form, is: 
Subject + can + verb + …

SUBJECTMODAL VERBVERB
Icanwork
Youcanwork
Hecanwork
Shecanwork
Itcanwork
Wecanwork
Youcanwork
Theycanwork

Negative

Its structure, in the negative form, is:
Subject + can + not + verb + …

  • Short form of the negative form is can’t;
  • Can is an exception in forming the negative form and it is written together with not: cannot (can not is incorrect).
SUBJECTMODAL VERB + NOTVERB
Icannotwork
Youcannotwork
Hecannotwork
Shecannotwork
Itcannotwork
Wecannotwork
Youcannotwork
Theycannotwork

Interrogative

Its structure, in the interrogative form, is:
Can + subject + verb + …?

MODAL VERBSUBJECTVERBQUESTION MARK
CanIwork?
Canyouwork?
Canhework?
Canshework?
Canitwork?
Canwework?
Canyouwork?
Cantheywork?
  1. Ability
    • She can play the piano.
    • She cannot play the piano.
    • Can she play the piano?
  2. Offer
    • Can we help you and your husband?
  3. Request
    • Can you open the window, please?
  4. Possibility
    • My wife can go to Milan this summer.
  5. Opportunity
    • We can stay at his place for a week!
  6. Permission
    • My children can stay at the party.
    • My children cannot stay at the party.
  7. Reproach
    • Can’t you just tell him your marital status?
  8. General truth
    • Parks can be dangerous.

We use can to express:

  1. Abilities: to be able to do something;
  2. Offers: to make offers;
  3. Requests: to demand something;
  4. Possibilities: to talk about possible situations;
  5. Opportunities: to express the chance to do something;
  6. Permissions: to ask or give permission;
  7. Reproaches: to tell someone what we want them to do;
  8. General truths: to talk about things that are usually true;

The modal verb can expresses ability, offer, request, possibility, opportunity, permission, reproach and general truth.

The structures are:

  • Affirmative: Subject + can + verb + …
  • Negative: Subject + can + not + verb + …
  • Interrogative: Can + subject + verb + …?

For example:
— Affirmative: “She can play the piano.
— Negative: “She can’t play the piano.
— Interrogative: “Can she play the piano?

NOTE: The form is always the same, even for the third person singular.

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

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Can: Modals of Ability Copyright © 2018 by books4languages. All Rights Reserved.