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



Dear teacher,
I have a question about usage of could as future permission.I have found this sentence in one grammar tutorial." Could we apply for a loan again after we've found a guarantor?"-  How this sentence is right because they use present perfect tense for future permission.


The present perfect in this sentence is in a dependent clause, and the use of some tenses is different in these clauses.  We could not say 'we've found a guarantor' with future meaning by itself; however if it is part of a dependent clause then it can have future meaning.  Following 'after' in this sentence you can use the present perfect (we've found) or the present simple (we find) with very similar meaning - the present perfect emphasises that the action is completed before the other action in the sentence (applying).

Here the dependent clause is introduced by 'after', but you can find tenses used like this with similar dependent clauses introduced by other words such as when, as soon as and until.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

True Peter. That's what I know concerning dependent clause, either present perfect or present simple has similar meaning. Thank you :)

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

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

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?