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Unit 4.2

Modals of Ability – Can


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.

I can work
You can work
He can work
She can work
It can work
We can work
You can work
They can work


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).
I cannot work
You cannot work
He cannot work
She cannot work
It cannot work
We cannot work
You cannot work
They cannot work


The interrogative form of the verb can has this structure:
Can + subject + verb + …?

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 + verb;
  • NegativeSubject + 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.

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


Modals of Ability - Can Copyright © 2016 by My Language Skills. All Rights Reserved.