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 has three forms:
The affirmative form of the verb can has this structure:
Subject + can + verb.
The negative form of the verb can has this structure:
Subject + can + not + verb.
- Short form of the negative form is “can’t“;
- The verb can is an exception in forming the negative and it is written together with “not”: cannot (can not is incorrect).
|SUBJECT||MODAL VERB [CAN + NOT]||VERB
The interrogative form of the verb can has this structure:
Can + subject + verb + …?
- She can play the piano.
- She cannot play the piano.
- Can she play the piano?
- My wife can go to Milano this summer.
- Can you open the window, please?
- My children can stay at the party.
- My children cannot stay at the party.
- We can stay at his place for a week!
- General truth
- Parks can be dangerous.
- Can’t you just tell him your marital status?
- Can we help you and your husband?
We use can when we talk about:
- Abilities: To ability to do something;
- Possibilities: To talk about possible situations;
- Requests: To demand something;
- Permission: To ask or give permission;
- Opportunity: To express the chance to do something;
- General truth: To talk about things that are usually true;
- Reproaches: To tell someone what we want him to do;
- 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).
- Affirmative: Subject + can + verb;
- Negative: Subject + can + not + verb;
- Interrogative: Can + subject + verb + …?
— 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.
Let’s revise this content within the [Form] section. Take a look at the [Example] section that shows its use within a context.