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Unit 8.1

Modals – Can/Could

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

Can and could are types of auxiliary modal verbs used to express the idea of ability or permission.

Can/could has always the same form, even for the third person. Can/could is used as modal verb and here are the three forms:


The affirmative form of the verb can/could has this structure:
Subject + can/could + verb.

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


The negative form of the verb can/could has this structure:
Subject + can/could + not + verb.

  • Short version of the negative form is: “can’t/couldn’t
I/You can/could not work
He/She/It can/could not work
We/You/They can/could not work


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

Can/Could I/you work …?
Can/Could he/she/it work …?
Can/Could we/you/they work …?
  1. Possibility
    • I can fail this class.
      I could fail this class but I didn’t.
  2. Ability
    • I can learn a formula easily.
      I could learn a formula easily when I was young. (Not anymore)
  3. Permission and Request
    • Can we play a game, please?
      Could we play a game, please? (more polite)
    • Can you write a composition?
      Could you write a composition? (more polite)

Can expresses ability or permission (in conditional form) in the present. Could is the past form of Can and it has the same usage but it refers to past. We can use Could in present to be more polite.

Can and could can be used with:

  1. Possibility;
  2. Ability;
  3. Permission and request.

We use modal verbs can and could to express possibility, ability, permission and request. Could is also the conditional form of can.

The structure is as follows:

  • AffirmativeSubject + can/could + verb;
  • NegativeSubject + can/could + not + verb;
  • Interrogative: Can/Could + subject + verb + …?

For example:
— “Can you do a drawing?” / “Could you do a drawing?” = Could is more formal than Can when we use it for permissions or requests.

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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