Can or Could

Can or Could


Can and could are modals and are used to make the general statements about what is possible or impossible.

E.g.

It can be very hot in Delhi in summer.

Or, It can’t snow in Patni Top in winter due to its altitude.

Can can also be used to get permission.

E.g.

The student said, `Can I ask my question, now, Professor?’

Or, `The movie is very boring. Can we leave the movie theatre now?’

Additionally, can is used to indicate skill and ability and can’t for inability.

E.g.

Maleena can speak English, Hindi and Spanish.

Or, He has been swimming for three months only and can’t swim very well.

Besides, can is used to talk about the ability to do something in the present or future; while couldn’t is used to speak about the past.

E.g.

The boys couldn’t dance very well even after 2 weeks of practice.

Or, I can read very well even in this dim light.

Could is used as the past tense of can.

E.g. It could be very hot in Delhi in summer.

Or, It couldn’t snow in Patni Top in winter due to its altitude.

And, could can be used to show that something is possible in the future, though it may be uncertain.

E.g. If we don’t hurry, we could be late for the movie.

Or, If we study hard, we could stand first in class.

Test your understanding - Choose the correct sentence from the pair of sentences given below

1.
a. She has learnt Calculus, Algebra and Higher Mathematics and can teach others too.
b. She has learnt Calculus, Algebra and Higher Mathematics but couldn’t teach others.

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ANSWER: a. She has learnt Calculus, Algebra and Higher Mathematics and can teach others too.



2.
a. If we have left home earlier, we can catch the bus. Now we will be late for the event.
b. If we had left home earlier, we could have caught the bus. Now we will be late for the event.

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ANSWER: b. If we had left home earlier, we could have caught the bus. Now we will be late for the event.



3.
a. Could I go outside and take this call?
b. Can I go outside and take this call?

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ANSWER: b. Can I go outside and take this call?



4.
a. It’s a stupid joke...you couldn’t be serious.
b. It’s a stupid joke...you can’t be serious.

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ANSWER: b. It’s a stupid joke...you can’t be serious.



5.
a. Martin couldn’t shoot with a rifle despite training at the shooting range for the past fortnight.
b. Martin can’t shoot with a rifle despite training at the shooting range for the past fortnight.

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ANSWER: a. Martin couldn’t shoot with a rifle despite training at the shooting range for the past fortnight.


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