Uses of the modal CAN in English

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the modal can in English
the modal can in English

This post helps us understand all the different uses of can in English. The modal can is one of the most commonly used modal verbs in English. It is used in a variety of situations.

Use of the modal can in English
Use of the modal can in English

CAN

The modal can is used for the following purposes:

  • To indicate the ability of a person or thing (only the present)
  • To make a request
  • To ask for permission
  • To make an offer
  • To show the possibility of an event

ABILITY

  1. I can beat you in chess easily.
  2. She can eat all of this herself. Trust me.
  3. I am not sure if you can convince my mother on this.
  4. Can you finish this by Sunday?
  5. I can’t dance well. I suck at it.
  6. I can’t drink this myself. (inability)
  7. She can’t talk in English. (inability)

REQUEST

One of the most common uses of can is to make requests.

Examples:

  • Can you show me the bathroom?
  • Can I come with you on the trip?
  • Can I please get the bill?
  • Can we get a water bottle?
  • Can you please drop me to the office today?

We can use could for the same purpose. Using the modal could to make requests is considered more polite and formal, and we should try to use it in the first place, always.

  • Could you call me later, please?
  • Could I see your I’d card?

PERMISSION

When we, as the speaker mean, ‘you are allowed to do something’, we use can in the sentence. Here, the modal verb can indicates that the person has been given permission for something or has the authority/power over it.

Examples:

  • You can choose anything from the list. It is specifically made for you.
  • Jon can get you fired from the job. He holds the cards here.
  • You can take my car to pick her up.
  • I can do whatever I want. I am the boss here.

The modal can is also often used to take permissions from others.

  • Can I sit here?
  • Can We live here for a day?
  • Can I take Rohan with us on the trip?
  • Can we throw the party at your place?

We usually use the modals could and may to take permissions.

OFFER HELP

We commonly use can to offer help to people. This is done in a question form. Let’s study some examples to understand this use.

Examples:

  • Can I drop you somewhere?
  • Can I do something for you?
  • Can I help you with anything?
  • Can we take care of your academic expenses?

POSSIBILITY

The modal verb can is sometimes used to refer to a possibility of an event.

Examples:

  • Don’t tell him anything about the party. He can get upset.
  • It can get really cold here in December.
  • The share market is booming these days. You can earn a lot from it.
  • This book can change your life if you read it carefully.

Points to note

A) The negative of the modal can is used to indicate that something is prohibited to do.

Examples:

  • You can’t park your vehicle here. (not allowed)
  • Children below 8 years of age can’t enter the hall.
  • You can’t use the office resources for your personal use.

B) We don’t use can in the past tense for any of the usages aforementioned.

Can is used in the present or the future. We can’t use it to refer to a past situation; we use could for that.

Examples:

  • You should have called me and let me know you were alone there. I can come there and pick you up. ❌
  • You should have called me and let me know you were alone there. I could have come there and picked you up. ✅
  • She can’t join us yesterday. She had an exam to prepare for. ❌
  • She couldn’t join us yesterday. She had an exam to prepare for. ✅
  • You can lose your life that day. ❌
  • She could lose her life that day. ✅

C) Can is changed into could in the indirect speech.

The modal can is changed into could when the sentence is changed into the indirect speech from the direct speech.

Examples:

Direct speech: Jon said, “I can help you with some money”.
Indirect speech: Jon said that he could help me with some money”.

Direct speech: “You can call anyone from the kitchen and order anything”, Jon said to me at the meeting.
Indirect speech: Jon told me at the meeting that I could call anyone from the kitchen and order anything.

D) It’s more polite and grammatical to use may and could to make requests and take permissions, than can.

It is important for us to understand that the modal can is often used to make requests or take permissions (apart from the other usages) in an informal structure (while talking to friends, family and people who we are close to), but it’s better and more importantly grammatical to use could or may for requests and permissions. Using can here makes us sound less grammatical and impolite.

Using can here might leave a bad impression on others, or may get you unfavorable results (specially in an Eng lish test/exam). Though it is fair or safe to say, at least to some extent, that you can get away using can with requests and permissions, avoiding to use it in these situations would be safe and smart. The grammar advocates the use of could and may when to ask/take requests and permissions.

  • Can I be a part of this team? (less grammatical and formal)
  • Could I be a part of this team? (more grammatical and polite)
  • May I be a part of this team? (more grammatical and polite)

Structures

Affirmative sentencesNegative sentencesInterrogative sentencesInterrogative negative sentences
Structure
Subject + can + main verb + other parts.

Subject + can + not + main verb + other parts.


Can + subject + main verb + other parts?

WH question word + can + subject + main verb + other parts?

Can + subject + not + main verb + other parts?

Can’t + subject + main verb + other parts?
Examples
1. You can do this job.
2. Max can help you with this.
3. She can get upset about it.
4. India can win the next match.

1. You can’t take up this course.
2. Jon can’t go with you tomorrow.
3. We can’t sell this car. It is like a family member to us.
4. You can’t beat Max without a full training camp.

1. Can you do this job?
2. Can Max help you with this?
3. When can I use your laptop?
4. Where can we go for the next tour?
5. How can I do this alone?
6. What can I do in this situation?

1. Can you not eat here, please?
2. Can you not talk about this?
3. Can’t she do this alone?
4. Can’t we eat something healthy?
Can structures

Related lessons:

FAQs

What are the uses of can?

The modal verb can is used in the following ways:
1. Ability: I can do this.
2. Inability: Ashish can’t dance. He sucks at it.
3. Possibility: He can get upset hearing this. Be prepared.
4. Permission: You can sleep here. Feel home here.
5. Taking permission: Can I sleep here tonight?
6. Request: Can you take a picture of us?

Can is a modal verb?

Yes, can is one of the most used modal verbs in English.

What are 10 examples of can?

Here are 10 examples of the modal verb can:
1. You can come in.
2. We can do this. I am sure we can.
3. You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.
4. I can’t sing well.
5. Can you please let me try this?
6. You can have it all.
7. This can be dangerous for us.
8. Can I stay here tonight?
9. It can rain today.
10. You can’t leave the place without paying for the food.

What is CAN and its example?

Can is one of the most used modal auxiliary verbs in English. It is usually to indicate one’s capability or ability, to take or give permission, make requests, or give suggestions.
Ex – You can solve this puzzle. Ex – She can eat it all. Ex – Can you pass me that? Ex – You can use my car.

How can I use can in a sentence?

We use can to talk about someone’s ability or capability, make requests, ask for permission, give permission, or to make offers.

Now, we know how to use the modal verb ‘can’ in English. Do share the post with others to help, and post your question, doubt, or feedback in the comment section.

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