CAN – Modal Verb

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  • Post category:grammar

Uses: Possibility, Ability, Permission, Offers, Requests, Instructions, Senses verbs, Deduction

CAN is a modal verb (called « modal »).
Modals are used before ordinary verbs.
CAN is used to express meanings such as :
Possibility, Ability, Permission,
Offers, Requests, Instructions, Senses verbs, Deduction.

We use CAN to talk about:
1/ « possibility »: something is possible, allowed:
How many languages can you speak?
From my room, I can see the river.
Can you help me?
Can you do that?
You cannot smoke in here.
Can you manage to do that?
You can park your car near the supermarket.
You can take it.
I can come tomorrow.
You can leave by train.

2/ « ability »:
I can drive the car.
I can’t drive the motorcycle.
I can speak english.
I can run 20 kilometers.

3/ « permission »: when we ask for and give a permission*.
Sorry, you can’t come in. It’s forbidden!
Can I drive your car?
Can I use you phone, please?
Can I speak to your director?
Can I speak to you or are you too busy?
* = We can use « May », but it’s more formal and less common.

4/ « offers », « requests », « instructions »:
Can I help you?
I can do this for you, if you want.
Please, can you give me a hand?
When you finished that, you can take out the rubbish!

5/ « senses verbs »: feel, hear, see, smell, taste, touch.
When we want to talk about something which is happenning now.
Can you feel it?
Can you hear the music?
Can you see him?
Something is burning, I can smell it.
I cant touch it, it’s too hot!
With most other verbs, we would use the present continuous!

6/ « deduction » (opposite of « can’t » in this contexte is « must »).
You can’t help me Dad, you don’t speak english!
You must help me Dad, you speak english!
-> Must, here, is the opposite of CAN in this contexte.
You can’t be tired. You’ve just slept.
You must be tired. You haven’t slept this night.

Can you do that?

There are two negative forms: can’t or cannot
These mean exactly the same thing. When we are speaking, we usually say « can’t ».
Can I smoke here? No, you can’t !
Can you help me? No, sorry, I can’t !
Use cannot when you write, can’t (contracted form) when you speak!

CAN I … ?: expression used to ask the permission.
Can I have an orange juice?
Can I take your coat?