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



could someone answer me two questions please?
first one, is "have to" a modal verb?
second one, when do I have to use "must" or "have to"?
thank you in advance

Hello monchoroca,

No, have to is not considered a modal verb. Both must and have to are used to say that an action is necessary, and much of the time there is no difference between them, i.e. you can use either form. There is sometimes a difference between the two in that must can be used to express the speaker's personal feelings, but normally have to isn't used in this way - it is used to talk about rules or facts.

In the negative (don't have to and mustn't), these two forms have completely different uses! mustn't means it is necessary not to do something, whereas don't have to means it is not necessary to do it. For example:

You mustn't tell him my secret. (don't tell him!)
You don't have to come to my party. (you can come if you want to)

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I have a problem, I'm a student and I want the anser for this question
complete the suggestions and requests below:
................ opening the window, please?
Can someone help me please?

Hello youssef25,

This looks like a question from an exam or from some homework, and we prefer not to do users' homework for them!  However, I will help you this time.  The most likely answer is 'Would you mind opening the window, please?'

One thing to be careful of here is the reply to this question.  If the person replying wants to help - that is to say, if they will open the window - then they answer 'No, not at all.'  If they do not want to open the window then the answer is 'Yes, actually, I do (mind).'

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Good morning,
Can you please tell what is the difference between COULD and MAY when asking for permission.

Hi valentintoma,

may is a bit more formal than could, and some say that it is more correct, but the fact is that most people use could (or can) to ask for permission. One difference between may and could is that could is only used to ask for permission - not to give or refuse it. When giving or refusing permission, you should use can or may. Below is an example - note the two forms that are crossed out (to indicate that they are not correct).

May I borrow your car?  Could I borrow your car?    Can I borrow your car?
   - Yes, you could.    Yes, you can.   Yes, you may.
   - No, you couldn't.   No, you can't.   No, you may not.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi.sorry I have a question too like this. asking permission It's difficult for me too useing may and could.my question is which is true "may I come in" or "can I come in" actually I use the first but I heard the second form from some kind of text.thanks a lot

Hi Diana,

Both 'may' and 'can' are acceptable in polite requests. 'May' is a little more tentative/polite, I would say.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Could interpret  "can" and "could" , please.
Is "could"  the past form of "can" and do we  use "could"  as "can" in the past?
Thank you!

Hello kristina26,

'Can' and 'could' are examples of modal verbs and they have many uses and meanings. In some contexts, 'could' is the past form of 'can', such as when talking about ability:

(present) I can swim / I can't swim.

(past) When I was a child, I could swim / I couldn't swim.

However, the range of meanings is much broader than this, and the relationship between 'can' and 'could' much more complex.  For example, both forms can be used in requests, with 'could' being a more polite form:

Can I have a glass of water, please?

Could I have a glass of water, please?

This page, and the other pages relating to modal verbs preceding and following it, show the various meanings of 'can' and 'could' (and other modal verbs), so my advice to you is to work through these pages and I'm sure that will help to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team