Different usages of CAN in English

‘Can’ is a modal auxiliary modal verb in English. It is one of the most, if not the most, used modal verb in English. Let’s study all the different situations where we use the modal verb ‘can’.

Structure: subject + can + main verb

Examples:

  • I can teach Chinese. (Ability)
  • You can use a calculator during the exam. (Giving permission)
  • You can’t park your car here. (Prohibition)
  • Can I take your dog for a walk? (Taking permission)
  • Can you drop me to at work today? (Request)
  • Drinking this can make you dizzy. (Possibility)
  • Can I drop you somewhere? (Offering help)
  • It’s not late. We can still get married. (Opportunity)
Use of CAN in English
Use of CAN in English

Ability

The most common usage of the modal verb can is to talk about the ability of a person in the present or in the future.

  • She can win the competition.
  • Monu can speak many languages.
  • He can fight.
  • I can make anyone fall in love with me.

Note: use the modal verb ‘could’ to refer to the ability of a person in the past. ‘Can’ is not used for past abilities. f9fec8

  • She could sing well. (She had the ability to sing well in the past)
  • I could play the guitar in school.

Permission

The modal verb can is often used to give or take permission. Study the following examples:

Giving permission

  • You can come in.
  • You can bring your friends on the trip. Just make sure they don’t create havoc there.

Taking permission

  • Can I date your sister? I won’t if you don’t allow it.
  • Can I use your laptop for some time?

Note: the modal verb ‘may’ is also used for asking and giving permission. The difference is that it is considered a lot more formal. Use ‘may’ in formal situations where you need to be more formal or polite to the person you are talking to.

  • You may come in.
  • May I use your laptop for some time?

Request

The modal verb can is commonly used to make a request.

  • Can I have water?
  • Can you take my mother to the dentist’s?
  • Can you help me with my homework?
  • Can you see if I have something in my eyes?

Note: the modal verbs ‘could’ and ‘may’ are also used to make a request. They are considered more polite and formal. It’s suggested that we use these verbs over ‘can’ in formal situations.

  • Could I have a glass of water?
  • May I have a glass of water?

Possibilities

The modal verb can is also used to talk about the possibility of an event or situation.

  • Beating him in boxing can be difficult.
  • Eating this plant can kill you.
  • Learning English can be difficult for some people.
  • Living with him can be a challenging thing.

Note: we often use the modal verb ‘may’ to talk about the possibility of a situation.

  • India may lose the next match.
  • Eating this plant may kill you.

Offering help

The modal verb can is often used to offer help.

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

Opportunity

We sometimes use can to talk about an opportunity. Study the following examples:

  • We can still get married. It’s not too late.
  • They are looking for an English teacher. You can apply for the post.

Use of ‘CAN NOTin English

Prohibition/Not allowed

  • You can’t promote your products here.
  • We can’t use the office assets for personal usages.

Not able to do something

  • We can’t walk on water.
  • She can’t cook. She has a cook.

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