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Using Can

In this lesson of learning English as a Second Language , we shall learn :

  • Using Can to express abilities , possibilities and permissions.
  • Structures of Can.
  • Short Replies in  Can.

       Video Tutorial in English

       Video Tutorial in Urdu


Can is used to express abilities, possibilities and permissions. An important thing is that Can shows abilities , possibilities and permissions in Present Time. Can is a modal verb (special verb) which does not mean anything. Students learning English usually try to translate CAN or other modal verbs like must , will etc.This is not the right way of learning English. I usually tell in my every lesson that we shouldn't be relying on the method of translation to learn English.


I can swim.                     (Can expressing ability)   

Birds can fly.                   (Can expressing possibility)

A: Can I go to the cinema tonight?

B: Yes ,  you can.              (Can expressing permission)  

As I told you earlier that can does not have any meaning, we use CAN before any action verb and it starts giving a special meaning to that verb.

e.g.  I  swim .                 (Expressing habit)

The above sentence is a Present Simple sentence showing a habit.

Now, observe the following example using Can in the same sentence.

e.g. I can swim.                (Expressing ability)

You can see that when we use Can in the same sentence, the idea of the whole sentence changes from habit to ability. So this is what Can or any other modal verb  does. Can does not contain any meaning instead gives meaning.


Structures of Can


Subject   +  Can  + First Form of  a Verb  +  Object.

I                   can            play                          the piano. 

She               can           drive                          a car.


Subject    + Can +  not  + First Form of a Verb +  Object.

I                 can       not        play                            the piano.

              She          can     not        drive                           a car.


Can +  Subject  +   First Form of a Verb  +  Object?

Can        you                 play                            the piano?

Can        she                 drive                            a car?

Note:  The above structures  are very easy to use and remember and you can easily form sentences of Can. We always use first from of a Verb with CAN. Observe the following examples:

Correct :   Ali can speak English

Incorrect : Ali can to speak English.

Incorrect : Ali can speaks English.

You can see that we do not use  TO or we do not add  S/ES  with First form of a verb in case of 3rd person singular like Present Simple Tense while using CAN.


Short Replies:

1.    A : Can you fly an aeroplane?

       B : No , I can't.

2.    A : Can she bake a cake?

       B : Yes , she can.

3.    A : Can he swim?

       B : Yes , he can.

You already know if you have done previous lessons that we make short replies with the helping verb present in the same tense. Likewise, in case of modals, as we do not use any helping verbs instead modal verbs themselves, so we shall make short replies using the same modal verbs.

A very important thing  is that using CAN for possibilities, abilities or permissions depends upon the usage and situations. It means that 

if a person wants to talk about an ability he will use CAN

if a person wants to talk about a possibility he will use CAN

if a person wants a permission  he will use CAN.

And all of the different uses will be clear with the situation

e.g. If I say  " Can you cook?" Here I am asking about ability.

      If I say  " Can I come in?" Here I am asking about  permission.

      If I say  " Can a horse fly?" Here I am asking about  possibility.

That's all in this lesson, practise a lot and happy learning. Wish you all the best!!

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