Learn how to use can, could and could have to talk about ability, and do the exercises to practise using them.

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

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Ability: can and could 2

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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

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Ability: could have 2

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Soumis par omer3939 le jeu 28/01/2021 - 11:38

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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,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Yigido le mar 29/12/2020 - 14:25

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Hi, 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?
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Soumis par Kirk le mar 29/12/2020 - 15:16

En réponse à par Yigido

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello abdirahman mohamed yousuf, The British Council focuses on the IELTS exam rather than TOEFL. We have plenty of resources for the former: http://takeielts.britishcouncil.org https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/IELTS ~ For TOEFL, I suggest you try the homepage of the exam, where you should be able to find more information: https://www.ets.org/toefl ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Goktug123 le dim 12/05/2019 - 20:14

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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. ~ Peter 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!
Hello Goktug123 'to' makes sense in this sentence; as Peter says, it shows which editions the codes are relevant to. If you changed it to 'the', the sentence would become even more difficult to understand. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 07/03/2019 - 19:25

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Could you please help me? What is the difference between "didn't have to do" and "needn't have done"? We didn’t have to run to the museum because it was already closed when we got there. We needn’t have run to the museum because it was already closed when we got there. Thank you. I appreciate your helping me.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

When we use needn't have it means we did something and it was not necessary.

When we use didn't need to it is not clear if we did something or not.

 

For example:

I didn't need to go to work. [we don't know if I went to work or not]

I needn't have gone to work. [I went to work and it was not necessary]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Zeeshan Siddiqii le ven 01/03/2019 - 08:36

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Do we use 'shall' instead of 'should'? For instance we talk about the result of drizzling that it causes mess on streets. We know that streets are in bad condition so there is a mess on the streets due to their bad condition itself, not because of the drizzling. So can we say: Therefore, drizzling shall not be called a distress. Our streets shall be called a distress.

Hello Zeeshan Siddiqii

I would recommend saying 'we shouldn't call our streets a mess' or something similar here. 'should' works better because you are describing the best thing to talk about the streets in this situation. Note that 'distress' isn't really appropriate in this context in standard British English -- I think 'mess', the word you used earlier, works better here.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 14/02/2019 - 19:54

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I'm really confused and I need your help with these modals. You ……… have the car inspected next week. The registration expires soon. (must - have to - need to) Are all correct in this context? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

All three options are grammatically correct.

I think the third option (need to) is the best, but the second (have to) is also possible. The first option (must) does not seem a natural choice in any normal context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

sorry, I don't understand the point related to "must". Is "must" correct here or not. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

In the context you provided, we would not use must.

Please note that we generally do not comment on questions from other sources. We're happy to answer questions about our own material or about the language generally, but we don't check exercises or questions from textbooks or similar sources.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I'm sorry for disturbing you but I just try to improve my English. I am a teacher of English in Egypt and I sometimes face some exercises in our outside books which really confuse me. You are a reliable and trusted source so I hope you still receive my notes. Thank you so much.