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Unit 4.2

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 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 to happen and to ask 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 + …

SUBJECT 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

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).
SUBJECT CAN + NOT VERB
I cannot work
You cannot work
He cannot work
She cannot work
It cannot work
We cannot work
You cannot work
They cannot work

Interrogative

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

CAN 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. 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 him 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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