Advanced English Grammar



Modal Verb Can

The modal verb can is used in a variety of ways. Below are brief explanations of usage along with an exercise for you to check your understanding.

Generally, we should know that can is used to express ability or absence of ability.

   I can lift the chair = I am able to lift the chair. (I have the ability)
   I can't lift the table = I am unable to lift the table. (I don't have the ability)

Can is also used to express permission.

   Can I come in? she asked, as she knocked on the door.

The modal verb can is used to make suggestions too.

   What do you want to do tonight? I know, we can go to the movies.

Can is also used to make a logical conclusion. (usually negative)

   He can't be rich. Look at his shabby clothes.

It is used to ask for help as well.

   Can you help me move the bookcase please?

Now, unlike other languages that use the third person when speaking to an individual to show politeness or respect, in English we don't use that form.

Often times, we use modal verbs and the tone of our voice to show respect to unknown people or to people older than we are.

The Modal Verb Can

Can has only the simple present or the simple past tense (could) of the verb. All other tense forms are made with "to be able to" as shown below.

to be able to 
can / is able to 
could / was able to 
will be able to / can 
Present Perfect 
have been able to 
Past Perfect 
had been able to 
Future Perfect 
will have been able to 
Present Conditional 
would be able to 
Past Conditional 
would have been able to 


Modal Verb Can Exercise 

Fill in the blanks with can or can't and then check your answers below.

1. The boy ____ run because his leg is broken.
2. She ____ go to the store after lunch. Let's eat.
3. ____ you get the door for me please? My hands are full.
4. They ____ be happily married because they are always fighting.
5. That boy ____ have written this essay. He doesn't have the skills.
6. We ____ go to the movies tomorrow night. Let's stay in tonight.
7. Mom, ___ I watch the football match on TV?
8. Can I go to Steve's tonight after dinner? No, you ____.
9. He's a smart boy. He ____ do multiplication tables and he's only 5.
10. You ____ be serious. There's no way we will finish by then!


 Your score is  

For more information concerning the modal verb can click on the preceding link.