Grammar | Modals 01 | Can Could and Be Able To

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Can

We use can to say that something is possible or allowed, or that somebody has the ability to do something. We use can + infinitive

e.g.

We can see the lake form our hotel.

Can you speak foreign languages?

Be Able To

You can say that somebody is able to do something, but can is more usual.

e.g.

We are able to see the lake from our hotel.

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

e.g.

I haven’t been able to sleep recently.

Tom might be able to come tomorrow.

Applicants for the job must be able to speak two foreign languages.


Let’s Practice What We’ve Learned

Complete the sentences using can or (be) able to. Use (be) able to only when can is not possible.

1
Gary has traveled a lot. He ______ speak five languages.
2
I haven't ______ sleep very well recently.
3
Nicole ______ drive, but she doesn't have a car.
4
I used to ______ stand on my head, but I can't do it any more.
5
I can't understand Mark. I've never ______ understand him.
6
I can't see you on Friday, but I ______ meet you on Saturday morning.
7
Ask Katerine about your problem. She might _______ help you.
8
You have to be careful in this part of the city. It ______ be dangerous.
9
Michael has lived in Italy a long time ago, so he should ______ speak Italian.

Could

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

e.g.

We had a lovely room in the hotel. We could see the lake.

I was sitting at the back of the theater and couldn’t hear very well.

We use could for general ability and with see, hear etc.

e.g.

My grandfather could speak five languages.

But to say that somebody succeeded in doing something in a specific situation, we normally use was/were able to or managed to (not could)

e.g.

The fire spread quickly but everybody was able to escape. (not could escape)

I didn’t know where Max was, but I managed to find him in the end. (not could find)

The negative couldn’t (could not) is possible in all situations.

e.g.

My grandfather couldn’t swim.

Andy played well, but he couldn’t beat Jack.


Let’s Practice What We’ve Learned

Complete the sentences using could, couldn't or managed to. (Use managed to only when it is necessary)

My grandfather traveled a lot. He ______ speak five languages.
I looked everywhere for the book, but I ______ find it.
They didn't want to come with us at first, but we ______ persuade them.
Jessica had hurt her foot and ______ walk very well.
There was a small fire in the kitchen, but fortunately I ______ put it out.
The walls were thin and I ______ hear people talking in the next room.
I ran my first marathon recently. It was very hard, but I ______ finish.
My grandmother loved music. She ______ play the piano very well.
We wanted to go to the concert, but we ______ get tickets.
A girl fell into the river, but some people ______ pull her out. She's all right now.

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