Modal Verbs in English – Can and could

Can and Could are two of the most used modal verbs in English. These are auxiliary verbs ( modal auxiliary verb ). 

When to use CAN?

  • We use can: to express the idea of ability [to be able to] or permission [to be allowed to].
  • We use can, to talk about something we are able to do in the Present.

When to use COULD?

  • We use could, to talk about something we were able to do in the Past.
  • We use could, to talk about general ability and possibility in the past.
  • We also use Could, to sound more polite when we are asking for permission.


Could you give me the book, please?
Could we leave early today sir?

Explanation of can and could

We use Can in the Present.
And we use Could in the past.

Can and Could Examples:

  • My horse is amazing, it can run fast. (It is able to run fast).
  • My horse was amazing, it could run fast. (It was able to run fast).
  • I’m afraid of the water because I cannot swim. (I’m not able to swim).
  • I was afraid of the water because I could not swim. (I was not able to swim).
  • We can use the computer in the office. (We are allowed to use it).
  • We could use the computer in the office. (We were allowed to use it).

Affirmative form

In the present: Subject + can + base verb + complement.

In the past: Subject + could + base verb + complement.

Can and Could modal Examples:

  • Tom can come tomorrow.
  • My father can speak 5 languages.
  • We can see the lake from our hotel.
  • We can go now. It’s stopped raining.
  • My sister can play the piano really well.
  • When I was young, I could run very fast.
  • Mary can drive, but she doesn’t have a car.
  • We can take the driving test until we are 18.
  • My grandfather could speak five languages.
  • I can come and see you tomorrow if you like.
  • As soon as I walked into the room, I could smell gas.
  • My brother can run a hundred meters in 15 seconds.
  • Sally can speak English, but she can’t speak Arabic.
  • I can play the piano. My brother can play the piano too.
  • Not many people can run a marathon is less than 3 hours.
  • Layla got the job because she could speak four languages.
  • We had a lovely room in the hotel. We could see the lake.
  • I like this hotel room. You can see the mountains from the window.
  • Nova could draw very well when she was a child. Her pictures were very good.

Negative form

In the present: Subject + cannot + base verb + complement.

In the past: Subject + could not+ base verb + complement.


Cannot = can’t.
Could not = couldn’t.

Can and Could Negative Examples:

  • I can’t hear what you are saying.
  • I’m afraid I can’t visit you on Friday.
  • Have you seen my bag? I can’t find it.
  • I was tired last night, but I couldn’t sleep.
  • I couldn’t swim even when I was 12 years.
  • You can’t park your scooter outside the school.
  • You are speaking very quietly. I can’t hear you.
  • Grace doesn’t know what to do. She can’t decide.
  • You can’t install this program without a serial key.
  • I wasn’t hungry yesterday. I couldn’t eat my dinner.
  • I can’t see without my glasses. I wear them all the time.
  • Luna can’t go to the picnic next Friday. she has to work.
  • Sofia couldn’t go to the meeting last week. She was ill.
  • I’m sorry, but we can’t come to your party next Saturday.
  • We couldn’t go to the party because we went to a wedding.
  • Last week she couldn’t come to school because she was ill.
  • I wanted to speak to Mark yesterday, but I couldn’t find him.
  • You can look at the animals in the zoo, but you can’t touch them.
  • Women couldn’t compete or watch the ancient Olympic Games.
  • Camila can’t sleep. It’s 3:00 in the morning and she’s still watching TV.
  • I had a party last week, but Kabir and Mohammed couldn’t come.
  • Before Ibrahim came to Britain, he couldn’t understand much English. Now he can.
  • I had a wonderful holiday in Italy when I was a child, I really loved it, but I couldn’t understand Italian.

Can and Could Question form

Can, or, could + subject + base verb + complement + question mark.

Can and Could Short Answer

Yes, I can. No, I can’t
Yes, he could. No, he couldn’t.

Can and Could Question Examples:

  • Can I use your computer?
    Yes, you can.
  • Can anyone understand her?
    Yes, we can understand her well.                           
  • Can you play the guitar?
    Yes, I can but I only know one song.
  • Could you wear trainers to school, dad?
    No, we couldn’t. it was against the rules.
  • Can you tell me the time?
    Yes, I can. It’s 4:30 PM.
  • Could you speak English when you were younger?
    No, I couldn’t. I didn’t study it at school.
  • Can Sami write the program?
    No, he can’t. he doesn’t know anything about computers.
  • Could your children go to school yesterday?
    No, they couldn’t because there was too much snow.
  • I can’t remember her name. do you know it?
    No, I can’t too.
  • Can you swim?
    Yes, but I’m not a very good swimmer.
  • Can you change twenty pounds?
    I’m sorry, I can’t.
  • Can your son ride a bike?
    Yes, he can.
  • Can we park our car here?
    No, I’m afraid you can’t. There’s a car park at the end of the street.
  • Can your parents play tennis?
    No, they can’t.
  • Can I ask you something?
    Yes, you can of course.
  • Can I borrow your laptop tomorrow?
    I’m sorry, I need it tomorrow. But you can use it now if you like.

Polite Requests with Could

  • Could you help with this exercise?
    I’m sorry but I can’t. I’m too busy.
  • Could you lend me some money?
    Ok, how much do you need? 100$
  • Could you open the door, please?
    Yes, of course.
  • Could you carry my bags please?
    Ok, I’m going to help you.
  • Could you give me some advice?
    In next time.
  • Could you help me for a minute, please?
  • I was wondering if you could do something for me.
  • Could I have your book in the next 10 minutes please?
    Sorry, I have no idea how to find it.

WH Question form

WH + Can, or, could + subject + base verb + complement + ?

  • Where can he find cheese and yogurts?
    He can find cheese and yogurts in the dairy section in aisle 11.
  • Who can pay with a coupon?
    Customers can pay with a coupon.
  • When can we shop at supermarkets?
    We can shop until very late at night.
  • What can you speak?
    I can speak 4 languages.
  • Where can we go to?
    We can go to a restaurant outside.
  • What can your students play?
    They can play soccer.
  • How can your sister come here?
    She can come here by taxi.
  • Why can’t they eat and drink?
    Because they are fasting.
  • What time can meet again?
    We can meet at 9:00 tomorrow.

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