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Level: beginner

We use can and can't 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 and can't to talk about the ability to do something at a specific time in the present or future:

I can see you.
Help! I can't breathe.

We use could and couldn't to talk about the past:

She could speak several languages.
I couldn't see you.

Ability: can and could 1


Ability: can and could 2


Level: intermediate

We use could have to say that someone had the ability or opportunity to do something, but did not do it:

She could have learned Swahili, but she didn't want to.
I could have danced all night. [but I didn’t]

Ability: could have 1


Ability: could have 2



It does not seem to me a reported question - it seems to be direct narration. Will you please help me understand this.

And what if it is a reported question - would the word order be 'May I know who are you?'

Hello dipakrgandhi

'May I know who are you?' is not correct in standard British English; instead, it would be 'May I know who you are?'.

Even though this is more of a request or polite command, it has the structure of a reported question.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi kirk,

To be precise, it's an indirect question isn't it?


Hello Tim,

Yes, you're right! Sorry for the confusion. Reported and indirect questions follow the same word order.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you , I think , it is good to refresh our knowledge through a fun exercise.
All the best,


You mentioned above that "We use conditionals to give advice: Dan will help you if you ask him" and that "Past tenses are more polite: Dan would help you if you asked him". But aren't these the structures of the first and second conditionals respectively? In order words, regarding the second sentence which utilises the past tense, isn't it done so as to express the second conditional (•if + past simple, ...would + infinitive), rather than for politeness?

Appreciate your advice, thanks!


Hi Timothy555,

Second conditional forms are used to describe less likely events and one way to make a request or advice polite is to make it more tentative. Using a hypothetical form is one way to do this. In other words, the fact that it is a second conditional form and that it is a polite form are not mutually exclusive.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

"you mustn't make a noise " it's says at the example above ,i'd like to know why we didn't use can't instead of mustn't and what's the difference and why at school in London they thought us that the negative form of must is can't not mustn't.

Hello racheed,

'must' can be used in different ways -- i.e., it has different meanings. When it is used (as in the sentence you ask about) to express obligation, which is prohibition in the negative, 'mustn't' is the negative form.

When 'must' is to express a conclusion or deduction, 'can't' is the negative form. For example, 'That can't be Santosh -- he's in Manchester, not here in York'. This means I see a man who seems to be Santosh, but since I know Santosh is in Manchester and I am now in York, he 'can't' be Santosh.

I hope that clears it up for you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I´d like to know the exact meaning of the sentence: "Cyclists should have to pass a test to get a licence before they are allowed on the road". Cannot I just say „cyclists have to pass a test? What is a difference between have to pass and should have to pass and should pass? Thanks in advance.