English Daily Workout: Modal Verbs: Can & Could

Modal Verbs: Can & Could

English Grammar Lesson: Modal Verbs "Can and Could"

3. Can and Could

The modal auxiliary can is most often used in the Simple conjugation.

The most important meaning of can and could is to be able to.
e.g. He can walk thirty miles a day.
When she was young, she could swim across the lake.
The first example has the meaning, He is able to walk thirty miles a day. The second example has the meaning, When she was young, she was able to swim across the lake.

Like the auxiliary would, could can be used in polite requests and suggestions.
e.g. Could you please tell me how to get to Almond Street?
You could try asking the bus driver to help you.

As indicated in the previous chapter, could can be used in sentences expressing wishes.
e.g. He wished he could visit France.
I wish I could have helped you.

It has also been pointed out that could can be used in either the main clause or the subordinate clause of a statement expressing a false or improbable condition.
e.g. If he were stronger, he could help us push the car out of the snow.
She could have caught the bus if she had left right away.
I would be glad if I could help you.
If he could have solved the problem, he would have felt happier.

In informal English, can is often used with the meaning to be allowed to.
e.g. He says I can take the day off.
Can I have some more soup?

However, in formal English, it is considered more correct to use the auxiliary may in such situations.
He says I may take the day off.
May I have some more soup?