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Sunday, 29 April 2012 06:00


Unit 26:  How to  Use  Can, Can’t, Could, Couldn’t  and To be able to

1. How to use " can"

a) - We use can to say that something is possible or that somebody has the ability to do something. We use can + infinitive (can do/can see etc.):

Example: - Can you speak any foreign languages?

- I can come and see you tomorrow if you like.

b) The negative is can't (= cannot):

+ I'm afraid I can't come to the party on Friday.

2. How to use “be able to"

- To (Be) able to ... is possible instead of can, but can is more usual:

Example: -  Are you able to speak any foreign languages?

-  But can has only two forms, can (present) and could (past). So sometimes it is necessary to use (be) able to... Compare:

Example: - I can't sleep.

but I haven't been able to sleep recently. (can has no present perfect)

Example: - Tom can come tomorrow.

but Tom might be able to come tomorrow. (can has no infinitive)

3. Could and was able to...

- Sometimes could is the past of can. We use could especially with: see  hear  smell  taste  feel  remember  understand

Example: - When we went into the house, we could smell burning.

+  She spoke in a very low voice, but I could understand what she said.

4.  General ability or permission

We also use could to say that somebody had the general ability or permission to do something:

Example: - My grandfather could speak five languages.

-  We were completely free. We could do what we wanted. (= we were allowed to do ...)

5. General ability

- We use could for general ability. But if we are talking about what happened in a particular situation, we use was/were able to... or managed to... (not could):

-The fire spread through the building quickly but everybody was able to escape. or ... everybody managed to escape. (but not 'could escape')

- They didn't want to come with us at first but we managed to persuade them. or ... we were able to persuade them. (but not 'could persuade')


-  Jack was an excellent tennis player. He could beat anybody.   he had the general ability to beat anybody)


- Jack and Alf had a game of tennis yesterday. Alf played very well but in the end Jack managed to beat him. or ... was able to beat him. (= he managed to beat him in this particular game)

6.  The negative couldn't (could not) is possible in all situations:

Example: - My grandfather couldn't (could not) is possible in all situations

+ We tried hard but we couldn't persuade them to come with us.

+  Alf played well but he couldn't beat Jack.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 29 April 2012 06:22


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