Can and Could: Guide, Examples, and Exercises

There are several modal verbs in English such as would, could, can, must, might, and a few others.

Today you will learn more about can and could so you can make affirmative, negative, and interrogative sentences with them

I can make another requestI could make another request
I can’t spend any more money I couldn’t spend any more money
Can you lend me your phone?Could you lend me your phone?

Now let’s check each one of these modals in detail

Uses of The Modal Can + Examples

These are some of the most common uses of the modal can:

We use the modal can to make general statements about what is possible: 

  • It can be a very painful proceure
  • It can be very cold in winter. 
  • It can be very expensive but it is worth it
  • You can easily lose your job acting like that

We use the negative can’t or cannot to show that something is impossible:

  • that can’t be possible
  • That can’t be true.
  • That can’t happen
  • You can’t be serious

We use can to talk about someone’s skill or general abilities: 

  • She can speak several languages.
  • She can play soccer very well
  • She can sing better than I do
  • He can’t dance really well

We use can to ask for permission to do something: 

  • Can I eat these cookies?
  • Can I ask a question, please?
  • Can I drive your car?
  • Can I have a word with you?

We use can to give permission:

  • You can start working again
  • Students can travel free
  • You can go home now if you like
  • You can play whenever you want

We use can I … to make offers

  • Can I buy a drink or coffee?
  • Can I help you?
  • Can I get you something to eat?

Uses of the Modal Could + Examples

These are some of the most common uses of the modal could:

We use could as the past tense of can:

  • It could be very hot in the summer.
  • You could lose your money if you continue gambling
  • She couldn’t phone you earlier

We use could to show that something is possible in the future, but not certain:

  • If we don’t hurry we could be late
  • If we don’t do the homework, we could fail the course
  • If they catch us, they could hurt us

We use couldn’t/could not to talk about the past:

  • We knew it could not be true.
  • He was obviously joking. He could not be serious.

We use could to talk about past ability to do something:

  • She could speak three languages
  • I tried but I couldn’t open the bottle
  • They couldn’t dance electronic music really well
  • I could speak german really well when I was in my 20’s
  • could swim when I was 5 years old.
  • My grandmother could speak seven languages.

Could is more formal and polite than can:

  • Could I ask a question please?
  • Could we go home now?
  • Could I tell you something?

We use could you and as a polite way of telling or asking someone to do something:

  • Could you take a message please?
  • Could I have my bill please?
  • Could you open my door for me ?
  • Could you drive home please?

Exercises: Can and Could

These are some exercises to help you practica what you have learned about the modals can and could

#1Can and Could Exercise
#2Can and Could Exercise

More ESL Resources

These are some posts that you might be interested in

  1. How To Make Comparisons in English
  2. How to Talk about Hobbies in English
  3. How to Talk about Movies in English
  4. How to Express Likes and Dislikes in English
  5. How To Make a Reservation in English
  6. How to Describe My Dream House
  7. How to Describe Graphs and Charts in English
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English