Can / could / be able to

Can is about a possibility or capability.

  1. Using can in the Present tense
  2. In the Past tense
  3. With Modals



Use can to express general capabilities.

I can run 100 metres in 1 minute!

Able to

Can and able to are the same in the present tense.

I am able to run 100 metres in 1 minute!



Could shows a possibility but usually with a condition.

I could run 100 metres in 1 minute … if I wanted to.

I can take you home, no problem!

Well, I could take you home, but you will have to pay for petrol.

Well I could challenge them, but I need to go shopping, so I hope they’re still here when I get back…



I can → I could

I can see the mountains → I could see the mountains

BUT this does not mean the action was done.  It is a possibility in the past.

In my hotel room, I could see the mountains.

Able to

I am able to → I was able to

It was a possibility in the past BUT this means the action was done.

I ran like hell and I was able to catch the bus.

My trip to Switzerland was very busy but I was able to visit the moutains.



Modals change the meaning of the verbs.

I might go to the tournament

I should learn that technique

I have to practice more

To add “possibility”, do not use can.  We use “be able to”

X: I might can →  I might can help you

O: I might be able to → I might be able to help you

X: I should can learn that technique

O: I should be able to learn that technique

X: I have to can practice more

O: I have to be able to practice more


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