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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



Hello Lamastry,

You can find references to register, formality and polite forms all throughout LearnEnglish, but as far as I know, there is no page dedicated to the topic. I'd suggest you do an internet search for something like 'awareness of register in English' – I expect you can find some useful explanations that way.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

hello British council.
i am your new students. please tell me how can i build up my vocabulary?

Hello akaash akaash,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! The best place for you to start is our Help page, which will give you ideas and advice for how to do this, as well as other aspects of learning English.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


"Iwill come" means I am determined to come, but how can we use the same sentence for simple future.... ok right, if we the same sentence for future , what would be the sentence for determination of the speaker. If external events plays a role for compulsion of speaker coming, what would be the sentence.

Hello sabago,

I'm trying to understand your question but I'm afraid it's not clear to me. It's possible for 'I will come' to refer to your determination (making it, in effect, a promise) and it necessarily refers to future time, as promises do. There are many possibilities for obligation, such as 'must' and 'have to' - the latter is generally used for external obligation.

I'm not sure if that answers your question. If not, please provide an example - a sentence - of what you mean. This will help to clarify it for us.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

hi peter
I am asking for first person[ I/WE] for shall.
'' I shall come'' express mere future or obligation? or both explain me with examples.

Hello sabago,

In most contexts in modern British English, 'shall' is only used in the way described on this page, i.e. for invitations and offers, and even there usually only in questions. Saying 'I shall come' would sound a bit pompous in most contexts, and so I'd not recommend using it, at least with British people. Instead you could say something like 'I plan to come', 'I'm going to come', 'I will come' – it depends on the context. See our talking about the future page for an explanation of this.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

how can we use obligation for fist person[ I /WE] using shall with verb come... can you explian with examples?

Hello sabago,

'Shall' has a similar meaning to 'will' and is rarely used for obligation. The only way I can think that it would be used is with a heavy emphasis:

You shall come when I call you! No arguing!

However, this is unusual and would be considered quite rude. It's something that an angry parent might say to a child, for example.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi British Council,
I am a bit confused of tenses used in asking questions.
Like a few days ago, I went to a cafe to buy drink, the worker asked me "what was your name?"
I am wondering why this question uses past tense instead of present tense. I thought name is something that is always true, so present tense (what is your name) should be used.

Best regards,