Can, Could, & Be able to

February 6, 2024
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Today, we’re diving into the world of modal verbs, focusing on “can,” “could,” and “be able to.” These words are your magic keys to talking about abilities, and knowing how to use them will boost your English speaking and writing skills. Let’s get started!

1. Talking About Ability with “Can”

When you want to talk about something you or someone else can do, “can” is your go-to word. It’s like saying, “Hey, I have the power to do this!”

  • Imagine watching a football match. You might say, “Cristiano Ronaldo can score goals from almost anywhere on the field.”
  • Or, when you’re planning a trip to Dubai, and you’re amazed at how Burj Khalifa can be seen from miles away.

Remember, “can” stays the same no matter who you’re talking about. It could be “I can,” “she can,” or “they can.” Easy, right?

2. How to Use “Can”

After “can,” you add another verb, but you drop the “to.” It’s like inviting a friend to a party but telling them they don’t need to bring anything.

  • If you’re into gaming, you might say, “I can beat this level without any help.”
  • Or, when talking about your favorite singer, “She can sing without auto-tune.”

And if someone can’t do something? Just say “can’t” or “cannot.” It’s more common to hear “can’t,” especially when chatting with friends.

  • “I can’t solve this math problem.”
  • “He can’t swim in the deep end of the pool.”

3. Asking Questions and Giving Short Answers

Asking if someone can do something? Just flip the order: “Can you…?” And for a quick reply, it’s either “Yes, I can” or “No, I can’t.”

  • “Can you cook biryani?” “Yes, I can.”
  • “Can she drive to Salalah?” “No, she can’t.”

4. Talking About the Past with “Could” and “Was/Were Able To”

When it’s a story from the past, switch to “could” or “was/were able to.”

  • Remembering a historical hero, you might say, “In the old days, explorers could navigate by the stars.”
  • Or, after a thrilling desert safari, “We were able to see the most beautiful sunset in the desert.”

5. Looking to the Future with “Will Be Able To”

When dreaming about what you’ll do in the future, “will be able to” is your phrase.

  • Thinking about advancements, “Someday, scientists will be able to solve complex problems using AI.”
  • Or, when hopeful about learning, “By next year, I will be able to speak another language.”


Modal VerbUseExample
CanPresent ability“I can speak two languages fluently.”
Asking for permission (informal)“Can I leave early today?”
Making requests (informal)“Can you pass the salt?”
CouldPast ability“When I was a child, I could climb trees easily.”
Polite requests“Could you help me with this?”
Possibility (often conditional)“We could go to the beach tomorrow if the weather is nice.”
Be Able ToAbility in the past, present, or future (more formal than “can”)Past: “She was able to solve the problem by herself.” Present: “I am able to understand the lecture.” Future: “He will be able to join us next week.”
Specific achievements (especially in the past)“They were able to win the match despite the difficulties.”
When “can” or “could” is not grammatically possible“I would like to be able to travel around the world.”

Read each question carefully and choose the correct answer. This quiz tests your understanding of the usage of “can,” “could,” and “be able to.” Good luck!

Multiple Choice Questions

  1. Last year, I _____ swim across the lake, but now I can’t.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) be able to
  2. I’m not sure if I _____ attend the webinar tomorrow.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) am able to
  3. She _____ play the guitar when she was just five years old.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) is able to
  4. They _____ finally understand the concept after the teacher explained it.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) were able to
  5. I hope I _____ visit the new art exhibition next month.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) will be able to
  1. By next year, he _____ speak three languages fluently.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) will be able to
  2. We _____ not find the location even with the map.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) were able to
  3. When I was younger, I _____ run very fast.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) was able to
  4. Tomorrow, if the weather is good, we _____ go for a hike.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) will be able to
  5. She tried hard and _____ finish the race despite the injury.
    • A) can
    • B) could
    • C) was able to

Rewrite Sentences

  1. Rewrite using “can”: I am capable of solving this math problem now.
  2. Rewrite using “could”: Last summer, they had the ability to travel around Europe.
  3. Rewrite using “will be able to”: By the end of the course, you will have the ability to write complex code.
  4. Rewrite using “was able to”: Despite the difficulties, he had the capability to achieve his goals.
  5. Rewrite using “can”: She has the skill to solve puzzles quickly.

Fix the mistakes

  1. Correct the sentence: I could to drive before I got my official license.
  2. Correct the sentence: She can able to swim faster than her brother.
  3. Correct the sentence: Will you be able to to join us for dinner tonight?
  4. Correct the sentence: They was able to find a solution without any help.
  5. Correct the sentence: I can’t believe I could win the competition last year.

Answer Key

  1. B) could
  2. A) can
  3. B) could
  4. C) were able to
  5. C) will be able to
  6. C) will be able to
  7. B) could
  8. B) could
  9. C) will be able to
  10. C) was able to
  11. I can solve this math problem now.
  12. Last summer, they could travel around Europe.
  13. By the end of the course, you will be able to write complex code.
  14. Despite the difficulties, he was able to achieve his goals.
  15. She can solve puzzles quickly.
  16. I could drive before I got my official license.
  17. She can swim faster than her brother.
  18. Will you be able to join us for dinner tonight?
  19. They were able to find a solution without any help.
  20. I can’t believe I won the competition last year.


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