Can Could Be able to In English Grammar

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Today we’re going to talk about modals of ability Can, Could, and Be able to. In the first place, we need to see the difference can and be able to. Both are the same in terms of meaning; both used to talk about abilities in the present. Or things you can do in the present.

For example,

can play the guitar and sing.

So, we can say be able to big more elegant or more serious or more formal.

So, let’s discuss below can, could, and be able to in detail.

Can and be able to

Can is used to talk about something that is possible or allowed and to show that somebody has the ability to do something

We use the infinitive with the can+Infinitive can do, can see, can run, etc.

For example,

  • Can you speak Italian?
  • We can see the river from our bedroom window.

Here, In these examples, we can see that we can talk about something possible.

The negative of the can is usually (can’t=cannot)

For example, I’m afraid I can’t go to the party on Saturday. (this shows that something is not possible so, we have used cannot here)

We can also use be able to in place of the can but can is more usual

see example again; We are able to see the river from our bedroom window. (but we usually said it. We can see the river from our bedroom window.)

But sometimes, be able to more necessary than can.

Let’s compare these examples

  • I can’t sleep.
  • John can come tomorrow.
  • I haven’t been able to sleep recently.
  • John might be able to come
  • tomorrow.

We usecantalk about any ability or the ability to do something in

general. While be able to used to talk about a specific incident or a specific event where the person was able to do a certain job.


We used could to talk about somebody there had the general ability or permission to do something.

For example,

  • My father could speak six languages.
  • We were totally free. We could do what we wanted.

In both these examples, we can see that we’ve used could talk about a general possibility or permission.

Could, we mostly used verbs like see, hear, smell, taste, feel, remember, understand, etc.

For example,

  • We had a lovely room in the hotel. We could see the lake.
  • As soon as I walked into the bedroom, I could smell gas.

So, we’ve used could with these verbs.

Click here to practice can, could, be able to Quiz

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