The word can vs could share the same meaning. We often use them when we are talking about awareness, ability, or possibility. Besides, both are categorized as modals in English grammar. However, they also have some differences.
In this article, we will learn more about can vs could, so we know how to use both of them properly.
Can vs Could Examples in Showing Possibility and Impossibility
When you want to express that something is possible, but not necessarily certain, then you can use “could”.
Example: “It could be raining in the afternoon”, which means that maybe it will be raining in the afternoon”.
On the other hand, use “can” when you are making general statements about a possibility.
Example: “It can be hot here during the summer”, which means that it is sometimes hot here during the summer.
To show something is impossible, you will need to use “can’t (cannot)”
Example: “They can’t/cannot be serious”.
If you want to make a guess or guesses regarding the past, you can use “could’ve (could have)”
Example: “It’s late. She could’ve/could have been in trouble”.
You can also use “could” if you want to make general statements about the past.
Example: “It could be hot here during the summer”, which means that it was sometimes hot here during the summer.
Can vs Could in Showing Ability
Using “can” and “could” is a great way to express ability. You can use “can” and “can’t” when you want to talk about someone’s general abilities or skill.
Example: “She can type very fast.”
“Can” and “can’t” are used to talk about the ability at a specific time, either in the present or in the future.
Example: “They can hear you.”
Meanwhile, you will need to use “could” or “couldn’t” when you are talking about the past.
Example: “He could cook.”
Besides that, you can use “could have” if you want to talk about something that had the opportunity or ability to do something, but did not do it.
Example: “They could have continued singing, but they stopped.”
Can vs Could in Questions
Using can and could to make a question sentence is usually used to ask for permission.
Example: “Can I have a slice, please?”
If you are wondering about a question: can or could which is more polite? then the answer is “could”. When you are in a formal situation and need to use a more polite way of asking for permission, use “could”.
Example: “Could you sign this paper?”
The use of “can” and “could” for permission is not only in the form of questions. You can also use them when you are giving permission or refusing permission.
Can vs Could in Showing Requests and Offers
Use “could you …” as a polite expression of asking or telling someone to do something.
Example: “Could you help me, please?”
On the other hand, using “can” will sound less polite.
Example: “Can you take it for me, please?”
To make offers, use “can I …”
Example: “Can I go with you?”
To reply or make an offer, you can say “I can …” or “I could …”
Using Could in Suggestions
An example of using “could” in making a suggestion would be:
“They could arrange a meeting for tomorrow.”
To summarize, “can” is a modal or an auxiliary verb to express possibility, ability, permission, ask for a request or offer, and make suggestions. Moreover, since “can” is also an irregular verb, its past tense form is “could”, which is considered more polite to use than can.
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