Level: beginner

Possibility and impossibility

We use could to show that something is possible, but not certain:

They could come by car. (= Maybe they will come by car.)
They could be at home. (= Maybe they are at home.)

We use can to make general statements about what is possible:

It can be very cold here in winter. (= It is sometimes very cold here in winter.)
You can easily get lost in this town. (= People often get lost in this town.)

We use can't or cannot to say that something is impossible:

That can't be true.
You cannot be serious.

Level: intermediate

We use could have to make guesses about the past:

It's ten o'clock. They could have arrived by now.
Where are they? They could have got lost.

We use could to make general statements about the past:

It could be very cold there in winter. (= It was sometimes very cold there in winter.)
You could easily get lost in that town. (= People often got lost in that town.)

We use can't have or couldn't have to say that a past event was impossible:

They know the way here. They can't have got lost!
If Jones was at work until six, he couldn't have done the murder.

Ability

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.
They couldn't dance very well.

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]

Permission

Level: beginner

We use can to ask for permission to do something:

Can I ask a question, please?
Can we go home now?

could is more formal and polite than can:

Could I ask a question please?
Could we go home now?

We use can to give permission:

You can go home now.
You can borrow my pen if you like.

We use can to say that someone has permission to do something:

We can go out whenever we want.
Students can travel for free.

We use can't to refuse permission or say that someone does not have permission:

You can't go home yet.
Students can't travel for free.

Requests

We use could you … as a polite way of telling or asking someone to do something:

Could you take a message, please?
Could I have my bill, please?

can is less polite:

Can you take a message, please?

Offers

We use can I … to make offers:

Can I help you?
Can I do that for you?

We sometimes say I can ... or I could ... to make an offer:

I can do that for you if you like.
I could give you a lift to the station.

Suggestions

We use could to make suggestions:

We could meet at the weekend.
You could eat out tonight.

Questions and negatives

We make questions by putting the subject after can/could:

Can I ...?
Could I ...?
etc.
Can you ...?
Could you ...?

 

The negative form is can't in spoken English and cannot in written English.

We sometimes say cannot, but it is very emphatic.

The negative form of could is couldn't in spoken English and could not in written English.

can and could: possibility 1

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can and could: possibility 2

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can and could: other uses 1

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can and could: other uses 2

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Comments

Hi araisin,

If possible, you should ask your teacher, but I imagine she was thinking that the action of remembering (not forgetting) is in the present time. In other words, the things that you remember are in the past, but the action of remembering them is in the present. Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much Kirk for the answer :)
It helps me a lot.

Dear
Can we write “Jimmy can play the guitar well and jumps the farthest.” Although the correct answer is “Jimmy can play the guitar well and jump the farthest.”
Thank you

Hello tjmanya,

Yes, that is possible, since the verb 'jump' can be used without the modal verb 'can' or with it. In other words, in your version, 'jumps' is not modified by 'can'. Most of the time, however, people say 'can jump the farthest' instead of 'jumps the farthest', so I'd recommend using 'can' with it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir. im just?? confused as to which is correct between "what more could i ever ask for" and "what more can i ever ask for" or both can/could apply to the sentence?

Hello ksjksyhmwwjh,

It's difficult to be clear without having a context to which we can refer. In general, we use 'could' when the situation we are describing is either (a) a real situation in the past (the speaker may be talking about his or her childhood, for example) or (b) a hypothetical or unreal situation in the present or future. We use 'can' when the situation is a real or likely situation in the present or future.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello again sir. if i were to use it in this sentence: "I'm blessed with good family, good friends and good health. What more can/could I ask for in life?" which one should i use?

Hello

In this case I think 'could' is probably the best option. 'Can' suggests that asking for more is a real possibility, while 'could' suggests that it is purely a hypothetical situation. Perhaps a very religious person who is praying and who believes that they are speaking to their god might say 'can', for example, but generally 'could' is the more natural-sounding option.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,

I have a doubt, while giving answers of the questions asked ,you use ,'you could say' and why don't you say 'you can say' in the comment section .

What is the difference between both the phrases ,i would be grateful if you answer

Hello Bholesh,

Could you please reply under my comment when asking follow-up questions? It will make it much easier for me to see what you are referring to that way.

Both 'can' and 'could' can be used to speak about possibility. 'could' can also be used to speak about a hypothetical situation, so when I say 'you could say' I'm referring to an imaginary (hypothetical) situation and explaining one possible thing to say then.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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