Possibility

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

It can be very cold in winter. (= It is sometimes very cold in winter)
You can easily lose your way in the dark. (= People often lose their way in the dark)

We use could as the past tense of can:

It could be very cold in winter. (=Sometimes it was very cold in winter.)
You could lose your way in the dark. (=People often lost their way in the dark)

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

If we don’t hurry we could be late. (=Perhaps/Maybe we will be late)

We use could have to show that something is/was possible now or at some time in the past:

It’s ten o’clock. They could have arrived now.
They could have arrived hours ago.

Impossibility:

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

That can’t be true.
You cannot be serious.

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.

Ability:

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

She can speak several languages.
He can swim like a fish.
They can’t dance very well.

We use can to talk about the ability to do something at a given time in the present or future:

You can make a lot of money if you are lucky.
Help. I can’t breathe.
They can run but they can’t hide.

We use could to talk about past time:

She could speak several languages.
They couldn’t dance very well.

 

Permission:

We use can to ask for permission to do something:

Can I ask a question, please?
Can we go home now?

could is more formal and polite than can:

Could I ask a question please?
Could we go home now?

We use can to give permission:

You can go home now if you like.
You can borrow my pen if you like.

We use can to say that someone has permission to do something:

We can go out whenever we want.
Students can travel free.

Instructions and requests:

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?

can is less polite:

Can you take a message please?

Offers and invitations:

We use can I … to make offers:

Can I help you?
Can I do that for you?

We sometimes say I can ... or I could ... to make an offer:

I can do that for you if you like.
I can give you a lift to the station.

 

Exercise

Comments

Hello ksjksyhmwwjh,

It's difficult to be clear without having a context to which we can refer. In general, we use 'could' when the situation we are describing is either (a) a real situation in the past (the speaker may be talking about his or her childhood, for example) or (b) a hypothetical or unreal situation in the present or future. We use 'can' when the situation is a real or likely situation in the present or future.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello again sir. if i were to use it in this sentence: "I'm blessed with good family, good friends and good health. What more can/could I ask for in life?" which one should i use?

Hello

In this case I think 'could' is probably the best option. 'Can' suggests that asking for more is a real possibility, while 'could' suggests that it is purely a hypothetical situation. Perhaps a very religious person who is praying and who believes that they are speaking to their god might say 'can', for example, but generally 'could' is the more natural-sounding option.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,

I have a doubt, while giving answers of the questions asked ,you use ,'you could say' and why don't you say 'you can say' in the comment section .

What is the difference between both the phrases ,i would be grateful if you answer

Hello Bholesh,

Could you please reply under my comment when asking follow-up questions? It will make it much easier for me to see what you are referring to that way.

Both 'can' and 'could' can be used to speak about possibility. 'could' can also be used to speak about a hypothetical situation, so when I say 'you could say' I'm referring to an imaginary (hypothetical) situation and explaining one possible thing to say then.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Which one of usages is appropriate for 'could' in the sentence below?
"You could use the second response as you don't like to do something, like in this example"

Hello sarab,

It's not possible to be certain without knowing the context in which the sentence appears. It is probably best described as possibility ('this is an option for you') and the use of 'as...' here suggests it has  the communicative function of making a suggestion ('why not do this?').

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir
in the following sentences what is more appropriate?
1. We 'can/ could' easily meet next Saturday.
2. You 'can/ could' come home at the weekend.
Sir both the examples suggest future and could is used for 'ability in past' but again we also use 'could' for giving suggestions so which modal should be used? Or can either ones be used interchangeably?

Hello amrita_enakshi,

Generally speaking, 'can' suggests that something is possible, while 'could' is more likely as a suggestion. However, context and intention is key. It is possible to use 'can' to make a suggestion like this, for example, if the context and tone of voice is appropriate.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter

Which of these two statements is correct
-Could you me make ...
-Could you me to make ...

using base form or infinity form after can or could is confused me

Thanks

Pages