Model verbs 1 – How to use

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When somebody wants to say that:

  • something is possible
  • something is allowed
  • he / she has the ability

then you use  “can” followed by the infinitive.  The negative form is cannot or can’t.

Examples:

  1. I can see the mountains from the bedroom.
  2. I haven’t got a car. You can borrow mine.
  3. I can come for the weekend if you want.
  4. Sorry, but I can’t come to the party next Saturday.

An alternative is to use “is able to” – but can is more commonly used.

The past tense of can is could.  It is often used with the 5 senses (see, hear, smell, taste and feel as well as with remember and understand).

Examples:

  1. We had a fantastic view from our room. We could see the sunset every evening.
  2. I could smell the fresh paint on the walls.
  3. I couldn’t see the band playing on the stage.

Could is also used when explaining a general ability.

  1. My grandfather could speak 4 languages.
  2. I could do what I wanted during the holidays.

Using could and was able to, managed. 

Could is used to explain a general ability.
Was able to is used to explain that somebody did something in a specific situation.

  1. The fire spread quickly, but everybody was able to escape / managed to escape.
  2. I didn’t know where John was, but I managed / was able to find him in the canteen.