Can you tell me the time?
What time is it?
When we talk about abilities in English, we use two forms:
Look at some more:
Are you able to swim?
Can you swim?
yesterday – today – tomorrow
before – now – later/later on
Present – Past – Future
I can – I could – I will be able to
I could means I was able to but I will be able to has no parallel form with I can.
I will can is an error!
I can speak English
I was able to speak English.
I could speak English.
I was able to speak English.
I will be able to speak English.
I will be able to do it after I finish my studies.
Abilities – Being Able to do Things
The idea of being able to do things is complex and there are many words to describe it in the English language.
The most basic verb to describe this function is “can”. Look at these examples:
I can speak a little English.
I can read English but I cannot speak it very well.
I could speak English when I was younger but I have forgotten a lot of it.
Verbs and Modals
I want to improve my English.
I can speak some English.
I like to study.
I can study anywhere.
Note that the verb combination “like to study” has a “to” between the verbs “like” and “study”. The verb combination “want to improve” is the same. There is a “to” between the verbs “want” and “improve”.
Now look at the combinations “can speak” and “can study”. There is no preposition between the two verbs. This is because “can” is a modal verb.
The Grammar of Modal Verbs
– I can hear something outside.
– You should go outside and have a look.
– It might be the cat.
– It may be a burglar.
– It could be the wind.
– I can hear a car. It must be my husband.
– Ok, I will go outside and have a look.
Note that in each case the verb combinations are not separated by the preposition “to”. Look:
Now compare these:
I want to travel more.
I have to save some money.
I like to travel but I don’t like to work.
The Preposition “to” with Verbs
In each case the verbs are separated by the preposition “to”:
Want to travel
Have to save
Like to travel
Can and Able
I can swim quite well.
I am able to swim quite well.
I can speak a little French.
I am able to speak a little French.
Note that the word “able” is used in the phrase “am able to”.
The Adjective – Possible
Another way to express ability, in some situations, is with the adjective “possible”. Look at these phrases:
It is possible to learn English quite quickly if you go to an English-speaking country.
It is not possible to get a visa for some countries if you have a criminal record.
It is possible to travel quite cheaply if you arrange everything yourself.
Now look at these variations:
You can learn English quite quickly if you go to an English-speaking country.
You can not get a visa for some countries if you have a criminal record.
You can travel quite cheaply if you arrange everything yourself.
Word Family – Possibility
Let’s look at the word family of “possibility”:
Possible and Impossible – adjectives
– You can’t do that. It’s impossible.
– I can. I can ride a horse from Canada to South Amnerica!
– No, you can’t. It’s impossible.
– I think it is possible.
Possibility – A Noun
It is a physical impossibility. It cannot be done.
Possibilities – Noun Plural
– If you want to travel from Canada to South America, there are several possibilities.
– What are they?
– Well, you could travel by plane, or ship, or car .. or on horseback!
– On horseback? Hmmm .. Is that possible?
Possibly – Adverb
These two phrases are the same:
I will possibly see you on the week-end.
I might see you on the week-end.
Follow the Links to Study more Lessons Links
Speaking – Interactive Stories
World English Course
There are lots of things you can learn in the World English Course. There is a place where you can talk about work and there is also a place where you can find a job and a place where you can find staff. There is a place where you can have fun and there is a place where you can talk about food or family. There is also a place where you can talk about money or love or philosophy. You can study anything you want anytime you want. You can do it once a week or every day or any time you like. Have fun! Work hard! Tell your friends and family members! Enjoy!