CAN, COULD and BE ABLE TO (2 videos)

Are you ABLE TO use these verbs: CAN, COULD and BE ABLE TO? Check them out here.

Are you ready for some English grammar? I hope so! We’ve had a lot of requests for a video about these three verbs. There’s a lot to cover so we’re going to split this video into two parts. And we’ll show you, step by step, how to use them in English.
We’re going to look at how we use these three words to talk about ability. We also use ‘can’ and ‘could’ to make requests and ask for permission. We have another video about that and I’ll put a link here. But this is about ability and possibility.
Let’s start with the most common verb: ‘can’. We use it to talk about things we’re able to do because of knowledge or skills that we have

Si, digame, cuando? Muy bien.
She can speak Spanish.

What are you doing?
I’m trying to whistle.
Oh I can do that.

It’s not just people that can do things. Things can too.

Our old coffee maker was very small so we bought a new one.
This machine can make six big cups.

So we use ‘can’ to say what’s possible.

Can you fix it?
I’m not sure, but it might be possible.

The negative form of can is ‘can’t’ and we use it to say things are impossible.

I can’t whistle.
Digame, cuando? I can’t speak Spanish.
I can’t fix it.

You’ve probably seen the word ‘cannot’, where can and not are written as one word. It’s a formal word and you’re more like to see it in written English. We don’t usually say it. We say ‘can’t’.
‘Can’ is a modal verb. We use it with the base form of other verbs – so the infinitive form, but without to. There’s no ‘s’ on the third person. We don’t use ‘do’ to make questions. We change the word order instead. And we add ‘not’ to make the negative.
So ‘can’ is a special verb. It doesn’t have an infinitive form. It doesn’t have an -ing form. And it doesn’t have a perfect form. They just don’t exist. When we want to use these forms, we use a different phrase – be able to. It means the same thing as can. So let’s look at these examples again.
‘Can’ and ‘be able to’ are both possible here and they mean the same thing. ‘Be able to’ is more formal and when we’re talking about knowing how to do something like this, we generally say ‘can’. But there are some situations where it’s not grammatically possible. Let’s look at some.

I can whistle.
I’d like to be able to whistle.

Notice Jay says ‘be able to’ here. He doesn’t say ‘can’ because we don’t use infinitive forms with can. Another example.

Mmm. I love being able to have three cups of coffee in the morning.
Yeah, we’ve been able to make six cups.

After ‘I love’ we need an -ing form. But can has no -ing form so we say ‘being able to’. And can has no perfect form either so we say ‘been able to’.
So when should you use ‘can’ and when should you use ‘be able to’? Well, normally you should use ‘can’. It’s what we generally say. But sometimes it’s not grammatically possible. When that happens, use ‘be able to’.
Now we had a question from a viewer. Bionexusgold said they always have a problem when they want to say ‘can’ for situations that happened in the past. Well yes, it’s tricky, Bionexus. We can’t say ‘canned’, but perhaps you can guess what we say now. We say ‘was able to’.

This mouse is a problem.
I’ve ordered you a new one from Amazon.
Oh, thank you. How much do I owe you?
Nothing. I was able to log in with your password.

So ‘was able to’ is like the past tense of ‘can’. When you want to use ‘can’ to talk about a past situation, use ‘was’ or ‘were able to’.

Were you able to fix it?
No sorry, I couldn’t.
Oh well. Thanks for trying.

Notice Jay’s answer here. Could is another modal verb that we use to talk about past ability. And the rules are a bit special. So we’re going to look at them in part two.
Come back next week and all will be explained. Bye for now.

Welcome back to part two of our video on ‘can’, ‘could’ and ‘be able to’. I’ll put a link to part one here in case you haven’t seen it.
Last week we looked at the modal verb, ‘can’. And this week we’re starting with another modal verb, ‘could’.
We’re going to look at how we use it to talk about past ability, and then we’ll look at how we use all these verbs to talk about the future.
We use ‘can’ to talk about abilities people have in the present. ‘Could’ is similar, but we use it to talk about past abilities.
For example, when I lived in Japan, I could speak some Japanese. It was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten it. I can’t speak Japanese now, but I could in the past.

When I was younger I could do a hundred push ups. Now I can only do ten.

This coffee machine can make six big cups. Our old machine could only make three.

‘Could’ is the past form of ‘can’ in these situations. But there’s a tricky thing about ‘could’. If we’re talking about general abilities in the past like these, we say ‘could’. But if we’re talking about a particular occasion, a one-off situation, we say ‘was able to’.

This mouse is a problem.
I’ve ordered you a new one from Amazon.
Oh, thank you. How much do I owe you?
Nothing. I was able to log in with your password.

Is it working now?
Yes, I was able to fix it.
Great.

Another thing we say here is ‘managed to’. It means the same as ‘was able to’.

Hey, I think I’ve managed to fix it.
Oh well done. He was able to fix it!

Because it’s a one-off situation, we don’t say ‘could’ here. For general abilities – could. For one-offs – was able to. But hang on, because negative sentences are different. In the negative, we can say ‘wasn’t able to’ or ‘couldn’t’.
I couldn’t fix it.
Wow, that’s weird. Let’s look at that again. To talk about a general ability or skill we had in the past, we say ‘could’.

When I was younger, I could do a hundred push ups.

But if it’s a one-off situation we say ‘was able to’.

Is it working now?
Yes, I was able to fix it.
Great.

Unless it’s a negative sentence. Then we say ‘wasn’t able to’ or ‘couldn’t’. So both are possible.

I couldn’t fix it.

Phew! OK, so that’s the past. Now what about the future? Let’s start with ‘can’. Is there a future form of can? Can you say ‘I will can’? No! If you want to say ‘will’, use ‘be able to’.

Any questions?
Yes doctor. Will I be able to play the piano after the operation?
Why, of course.
That’s great because I never could before.

So ‘will I can’, no. But ‘will I be able to’, yes! Easy huh? OK. Next question. Do we ever use ‘can’ to talk about the future? Well, yes. In fact we use it a lot when we’re making future arrangements.
So, how about Thursday?

I can meet you on Friday but not Thursday.
OK, let’s do it Friday.

So we’re using ‘can’ to say what’s possible in the future here. And we could also say ‘will be able to’. They mean the same thing. ‘Be able to’ is more formal and we normally say ‘can’.
OK, so that’s arrangements. Now what about skills and abilities? Well, that’s a little different. We use ‘can’ to talk about skills we have now, but not skills we will have in the future. So we say ‘can’ when we’re talking about a present skill. But when we’re talking about a skill or ability we don’t have yet, we use ‘be able to’, not ‘can’.

I can only do ten push ups now. But if I practice everyday, I’ll be able to do twenty.

So here’s a question. Could we say ‘can’ here instead of ‘be able to’? No, the thing is Jay doesn’t have this ability yet. We have to say ‘will be able to’.
OK, we’ve nearly finished. We just need to look at ‘could’. Do we use ‘could’ to talk about the future? Is that possible?

Yes, it is.
Oh. Are you going out?
Yes.
Well, take this umbrella. It could rain.
Thank you.

‘Could’ means the same as ‘may’ or ‘might’ here.
It may rain or it may not. It’s not certain.
We just use ‘could’ with this meaning, and not ‘can’. So we use ‘could’ to talk about a future possibility that’s not certain.

Oh Jay, you bought lottery tickets?
Yeah.
They’re a waste of money.
No they’re not. We could win ten million dollars.

If things are just a chance and not a certainty, we say ‘could’. And that’s why we often use ‘could’ to make suggestions.

I’m bored. I have nothing to do.
Well, you could tidy up the stock room.
Or I could work on my plans for world domination.
Well, there’s a thought.

When we make a suggestion like this, we don’t know if the other person will do it or not. And when we have ideas like this, they’re just ideas. Possibilities, but not certainties.
And that’s it! We’ve covered a lot of grammar with these verbs. They’re not verbs you can learn just like that. So when you have time, come back and watch the two parts of this video again. If you keep practising you’ll be able to use all these verbs correctly. So until next Friday, byeee!

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