Hey guys! Today we’re gonna learn how to correctly express ability. Check the answers to the last episode at first:
1.A 2.C 3.B 4.D
What’s the difference between “can”, “could” and “be able to”?
Let’s find out!
1. Can → to talk about abilities in the present or the future.
- He can speak English fluently.
- Can you come with us on Saturday?
2. Could → to talk about general abilities in the past.
- I could jump much higher when I was younger.
- She could play the piano when she was a child.
“When I was younger” and “when she was a child” are general abilities about a long period in the past.
However, there are many situations where we can’t use “can” or “could” to talk about abilities, because in some cases, there is no form of “can” or “could” we can use. So sometimes we need to use non-modal verbs.
The one we learn today is “be able to“.
- “Be able to” vs “can”
1. Same meaning as “can”
He can speak English fluently.
= He is able to speak English fluently.
2. Present perfect form (we can’t use “can”)
I have been able to swim since he was two years old.
3. Verb with -ing (we can’t use “can”)
I like being able to choose my own working hours.
- “Be able to” vs “could”
1. A specific ability at a specific moment in the past
In positive sentences, we can’t use “could”.
It was hard work, but we were able to finish everything on time.
“It was hard work” → a specific moment
“Everything” → something specific
“Finish everything” → a specific ability
In negative sentences, “couldn’t” = “be not able to”
It was hard work, and we couldn’t finish everything on time.
= It was hard work, and we were not able to finish everything on time.
2.The two meanings of “could”
- the past meaning (= was/were able to)
I couldn’t help you because I had too much to do.
= I wasn’t able to help you because I had too much to do.
- The hypothetical meaning (= would be able to)
I couldn’t help you even if I wanted to.
= I wouldn’t be able to help you even if I wanted to.
1. We can use “can” to talk about abilities in the present or future, and use “could” to talk about general abilities in the past.
2. “Can/could” and “be able to” generally have the same meaning, but in some cases we need to use “be able to”, for example:
- In positive past sentences which talk about a specific ability.
- We need to use a verb with -ing.
- Some tenses where “can/could” don’t exist such as the present perfect tense (have/has + done)
3. “Could” can have two meanings: past or hypothetical.
4. “Be able to” can be used in every case.
Replace “could” in the sentences with the suitable forms of “be able to”.
1. We could work together if you wanted.
2. I couldn’t do it last week because I was badly ill.
Write your answers down below!
Have a good day!