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Can versus Could

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Sep 23, 2020
Can versus could can be trick for English learners, so what is the difference between these two modal verbs?

Let's look at some examples.

I can speak English. This is the present form and expresses general ability.

I could play the guitar when I was a boy. This is talking about the past. I could play guitar when I was a boy, but now I cannot.

You can use can to ask for permission. For example, Can I borrow your calculator?

Using could is more polite.

Could you lend me some money?

Can can be used to express possibility. It can get very cold during the night in the desert.

Could is used for possibility in the past. You could have gotten a much better result if you had studied harder.

Can can be used to offer help to someone, such as, Can I help you with your homework?

Could can be used to make a suggestion. We could have Mexican for dinner if you feel like spicy food.

Cannot is used to express something that is not allowed, such as, You cannot eat here in the classroom. Could is used a conditional of Can. If I wasn't feeling so tired, I could help you to clean up.

Do you find this confusing? Ask any questions you might have below.