Can and could

Posted by Manjusha; You are here: Home > Practical English Usage > Can and could

We use can to say whether situations and events are possible theoretically.

We use could to talk about past possibility.

Cases where can is not used

We do not use can to talk about the chances that something will happen in future. We express this idea with may, might or could. Note that could suggests a less definite possibility than that is implied by may or might.


Cases where can is used

We use can in questions and negative sentences, to talk about the logical possibility that something is true or that something is happening.

Note that can is not usually possible in affirmative sentences with this meaning. Instead, we use could, may or might.

But can is possible in affirmative sentences with words like only, hardly, never etc. Can only means must.

See Also

Have or have got: differences
Hear or listen to?
He or she and they
Words ending in -man
At or in?
Can or could?
Go or get?
Can and be able to
Can and could
Change of tenses
Close and shut
Cloth and clothes
Come and go
Comparative and superlative
Comparatives - a common error
On the contrary
Cool down and cool off
Correct pronunciation of the
Could have + past participle

See Also

Back and Again
Bath and bathe
Beat and win
Because of, due to, owing to and on account of
Before and in front of
Begin and Start
Belong to, belong on and belong in
Below and under
Between and among
Between and during
Between and from
Big, large and great
A bit
Born and borne
Bring and take
But, though, in spite of, despite
By and with