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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



Can we use "ability" to describe things that non-animate things can or can't do? I found some examples like "generalization ability of AI" but I couldn't find a solid source.

Hi omer3939,

Yes! Here are some examples I found.

  • What impresses more about this car is its handling ability.
  • The city has thrived on its ability to sell.
  • The machine has a superior cutting ability.

But overall, it seems more common to use this word to refer to human (or animate) abilities.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

In this sentence "She could get up at 9 Am, but She did not clean her face"Why we use -could-instead of
-was able to- ?In this situation getting up is special ability,isn't it?

Hello Yigido,

That sentence sounds wrong to me. Perhaps it would make sense in its context, but looking at it now, I can't imagine how it is correct.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Never mind

hi how to learn tofel

Hello Team!
I want to ask a question.
I saw this sentence in a technical book.But I don't understand the meaning and duty of "to" used after shall modal verb.Here is the sentence:
"Unless otherwise specified,all codes,standarts and recommended practises herein shall be to latest editions,addendums and suplements issued before March 17, 2017"
Is this sentence grammatically true?And the meaning of this sentence unclear for me.
Could you please explain?
Thank you!

Hello Goktung123,
The meaning of the sentence is that all of the specified codes etc are relevant to the most recent editions (etc), not to earlier ones.
The sentence is not completely grammatical. There are spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes in it and I would not like to try to explain something which may also be an error. This is why we tend not to provide explanations here of language from unknown sources, but rather focus on explaining the material on our own pages.
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter!
Thank you for your explanation.Can we say that "to" in that sentence has spelling mistake?I thought that it would be "the".Can we say that?

Thank you so much again!