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Can

"Can" is one of the most commonly used modal verbs in English. It can be used to
express ability or opportunity, to request or offer permission, and to show possibility or
impossibility.

Examples:

• I can ride a horse. ability
• We can stay with my brother when we are in Paris. opportunity
• She cannot stay out after 10 PM. permission
• Can you hand me the stapler? request
• Any child can grow up to be president. possibility

Using "Can" in Present, Past, and Future
Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. Study the chart
below to learn how "can" behaves in different contexts.

Positive Forms Negative Forms
Modal Use 1. = Present 2. = Past 1. = Present 2. = You can also use:
3. = Future Past 3. = Future

1. I can speak Chinese. 1. I can't speak
Swahili.
2. SHIFT TO
"COULD" 2. SHIFT TO
I could speak Chinese "COULD"
can when I was a kid. I couldn't speak
be able to
general ability Swahili.
3. SHIFT TO "BE
ABLE TO" 3. SHIFT TO "BE
I will be able to speak ABLE TO"
Chinese by the time I I won't be able to speak
finish my course. Swahili.

can 1. With a burst of 1. Even with a burst of be able to
ability during adrenaline, people can adrenaline, people can't
a specific pick up cars. pick up something that
event heavy.
2. SHIFT TO "BE
ABLE TO" 2. SHIFT TO "BE
With a sudden burst of ABLE TO"

Lucid Consulting 1

I can't drive Susan's car when she is out of car when she is out of town. now. SHIFT TO "BE 3. 1. the child's leg. I can't help help her then. he was able Even the weight lifter. her then. last week. 3. adrenaline. SHIFT TO "BE 2. I can't drive Susan's car while she is out of car while she is out of town next week. can Can I have a glass of Can't I have a glass of could. he will be working together won't able to lift the car. I don't have any time. SHIFT TO "BE ABLE TO" ABLE TO" can I had some free time I didn't have time be able to opportunity yesterday. may request water? water? Can you give me a lift Can't you give me a lift Lucid Consulting 2 . I can time later. I wasn't able help her at that time. I can drive Susan's 1. 3. SHIFT TO "BE 2. I have some free 1. town. 1. town next week. I can drive Susan's 3. SHIFT TO "BE ALLOWED TO " ALLOWED TO " can I was allowed to drive I wasn't allowed to may permission Susan's car while she drive Susan's car while was out of town last she was out of town week. 3. to lift the car off the couldn't lift the car off child's leg. be able to lift the car. SHIFT TO "BE ABLE TO" ABLE TO" With a sudden burst of Even three men adrenaline. I won't have any time tomorrow. I'll have some free 3. 2. I can't help her now. I can help her time. 2. to help her at that time. I was able to yesterday.

Could "Could" is used to express possibility or past ability as well as to make suggestions and requests. I Lucid Consulting 3 . John could have been the 2. Past. about 18 years old. suggestion • Could I use your computer to email my boss? request • We could go on the trip if I didn't have to work this weekend. "Could" is also commonly used in conditional sentences as the conditional form of "can. If I had more time. past ability • You could see a movie or go out to dinner. know the right people. impossibility This use is usually a This use is usually a generalization or a generalization or a supposition." Examples: • Extreme rain could cause the river to flood the city. Mary couldn't possibly go stealing the money. to school? to school? Requests usually refer Requests usually refer to the near future. Study the chart below to learn how "could" behaves in different contexts. = Present 2. supposition. could 2. = Past 3. possibility one who stole the money. John could be the one who 1. possibility • Nancy could ski like a pro by the age of 11. I could 1. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. who stole the money. to jail for the crime. the one who stole the money. = also use: Future Future 1. = 1. = Past 3. could can be a real challenge. to the near future. could 1. John could go to jail for 3. Mary couldn't have been might. Mary couldn't be the one stole the money. Even if I had more time. may 3. Positive Forms Negative Forms You can Modal Use 1. You can't be 45! I can Learning a language thought you were possibility. conditional Using "Could" in Present. = Present 2. Anyone can become It can't cost more than rich and famous if they a dollar or two.

I couldn't speak Swahili. "Could" cannot be used in "Could" can be used in could be able positive sentences in which negative sentences in which past ability to you describe a momentary or you describe a momentary or one-time ability. It is impossible that he has the key. 2. Examples: • Jack might not have the key. Even if I had more time winter. I couldn't have traveled the world. request Requests usually refer to the Requests usually refer to the might near future. Even if I had had more conditional could have traveled around time. • Jack could not have the key. Not couch by myself. I couldn't travel the world. of can 3. was a kid. REMEMBER: "Could not" vs. one-time ability. near future. 1. You could spend your vacation in Hawaii. Correct Correct Could I have something to Couldn't he come with us? could drink? Couldn't you help me with can. couldn't travel around the travel around the world. I 2. around the world. "Might not" suggests you do not know if something happens. world. NO PRESENT FORM 2. I couldn't lift the couch by myself. Maybe he does not have the key. NO NEGATIVE FORMS suggestion 3. I could travel around this winter. I could lift the Yesterday. I could run ten miles in my twenties. "Might not" "Could not" suggests that it is impossible for something to happen. I couldn't run more than a I could speak Chinese when I mile in my twenties. around the world. polite Could I borrow your stapler? this for just a second? may. You could have spent your could vacation in Hawaii. Yesterday. Lucid Consulting 4 . If I had more time this 3. If I had had more time.

SHIFT TO "SHOULD 2. unplug it. = Past 3. warning They had better be here They had better not forget before we start dinner. late. had better The movie had better end They had better not be desperate hope. Positive Forms Negative Forms You can Use 1. Lucid Consulting 5 . It can also be used to express desperate hope as well as warn people. SHIFT TO "SHOULD HAVE" OR "OUGHT TO HAVE" OR "OUGHT TO had better should. = Present 2. Past. Study the chart below to learn how "had better" behaves in different contexts. You had better unplug 3. 2. = Past 3. unplugging them first. You had better not the toaster before you try clean the toaster until you to clean it. recommendation • That bus had better get here soon! desperate hope • You had better watch the way you talk to me in the future! warning Using "Had Better" in Present. Examples: • You had better take your umbrella with you today. first. 3. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. SHIFT TO "SHOULD" 1. 1. Tom's birthday gift. soon.Had Better "Had better" is most commonly used to make recommendations. SHIFT TO "SHOULD" OR "OUGHT TO" OR "OUGHT TO" People should unplug People shouldn't clean toasters before they clean toasters without them. also use: = Future = Future 1. HAVE" HAVE" recommendation ought to You should have You shouldn't have unplugged the toaster cleaned the toaster before you tried to clean without unplugging it it. = Present 2.

SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" 2. = Present 2. Positive Forms Negative Forms You can Use 1. SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" have got to have to. the near future. SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" theater. Past. People have got to be on time if they want to get a seat in the crowded 1. You had to be on time if You didn't have to be there on time necessity must you wanted to get a seat to get a seat. you want to get a seat in the crowded theater. necessity • I have got to be at work by 8:30 AM. SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" 3. 2. People don't have to be there on time to get a seat. 3. = Past 3. Study the chart below to learn how "have got to" behaves in different contexts. = Past 3. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. Desperate hopes and Desperate hopes and warnings usually refer to warnings usually refer to the near future. = Future also use: Future 1. Lucid Consulting 6 . = 1. obligation Using "Have Got to" in Present. Examples: • Drivers have got to get a license to drive a car in the US. You have got to be You won't have to be there on time there on time tonight if to get a seat. "Had better" is often simply pronounced as "better" in spoken English. in the crowded theater. = Present 2. Have Got To "Have got to" is used to express necessity and obligation.

They That must not be Jerry. Past. necessity • They have to leave early. SHIFT TO "MUST" 1. 3. NONE 3. = Present 2. That has to have been the That must not have been the right have certainty right restaurant. SHIFT TO "MUST" must. but this is less common. somewhere. have to 2. necessity. red hair. You Positive Forms Negative Forms can Use 1. They said said he was tall with bright he has blond hair. It can be used in statements. Study the chart below to learn how "have to" behaves in different contexts. not red hair. Examples: • This answer has to be correct. = also Future Future use: 1. I guess there was got to no other restaurants on the another one around there street. and obligation. = Present 2. That has to be Jerry. Haven't you got to be there by 7:00? Haven't you got to finish that project haven't got today? to Don't you future have to "Haven't got to" is primarily used to obligation ask about future obligations. and Future "Have to" behaves quite irregularly in the past and the future. There were restaurant. NONE Lucid Consulting 7 . 2. = 1. = Past 3. Have To "Have to" is used to express certainty. certainty • The soup has to be stirred continuously to prevent burning. obligation Using "Have to" in Present. = Past 3.

It can also be used to give or request permission. "Must not" suggests that you are prohibited from doing something. Study the chart below to learn how "may" behaves in different contexts. Past. or perhaps at work. She doesn't have to read "Grapes of Wrath." It's optional 1. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. • You don't have to eat that. REMEMBER: "Do not have to" vs. other literature classes. American Literature 101 is the only required course. You can if you want to. for this literature class. She won't have to take any exam. May "May" is most commonly used to express possibility. "Must not" "Do not have to" suggests that someone is not required to do something. 3. Examples: • You must not eat that. She has to read four books reading for extra credit. She had to give a presentation to must necessity her class. It is forbidden. She had to finish the first critique of "The Scarlet Letter. you may leave the table when you have finished your dinner. although this usage is becoming less common." have to book before the midterm. 2. but it is not necessary. it is not allowed. Examples: • Cheryl may be at home. She didn't have to write a 2. give permission • May I use your bathroom? request permission Using "May" in Present. She will have to finish the other books before the final 3. Lucid Consulting 8 . possibility • Johnny. 1.

Jack may not have been might possibility I couldn't really tell if he was upset. annoyed or tired. = Past 3. You're not finished with now that you're finished with your dinner yet. You may not leave the table 3. 3. your dinner. Jack may not get upset. Jack may not be upset. I can't really tell if he is annoyed or 1. = Past 3. your dinner. You may leave the table until you are finished with when you finish your dinner. = Present 2. English speakers can also use "might" to make suggestions or requests. Jack may have been upset. SHIFT TO "BE may ALLOWED TO" ALLOWED TO" give You were not allowed to leave can You were allowed to leave permission the table because you hadn't the table after you finished finished your dinner. 2. = also Future Future use: 1. You may leave the table table. = Present 2. SHIFT TO "BE 2. 3. may 2. It is also often used in conditional sentences. Jack may be upset. May I borrow your eraser? may May I make a phone call? can. although this is less common in American English. your dinner. You may not leave the 1. 1. request NO NEGATIVE FORMS might permission Requests usually refer to the near future. Perhaps he is tired. Jack may get upset if you even if you tell him the truth don't tell him the truth. 3. You Positive Forms Negative Forms can Modal Use 1. 2. = 1. tired. Lucid Consulting 9 . Might "Might" is most commonly used to express possibility. Perhaps he was tired.

I might not win. You might have tried the 2. If I had entered the contest. also use: Future = Future 1. I don't think Bill bus. She might possibility may to work. bus. I 1. 2. the contest. possibility • If I didn't have to work. = Past 3. = Past 3. She might have taken the 2. have walked home. Past. I might not conditional have won. of may 3. Study the chart below to learn how "might" behaves in different contexts. I might actually 3. conditional • You might visit the botanical gardens during your visit. from Bill. She might be on the bus. If I entered the contest tomorrow. I'm not sure how she got taken the bus. She might get a ride will be able to give her a ride. 1. Even if I entered the win. might 1. I can't contest tomorrow.Examples: • Your purse might be in the living room. Even if I entered the might actually win. She might not take the get home. She might take the bus to 3. 3. I 1. She might not be on the think her car is having bus. home. NO PRESENT FORM could suggestion 2. = Present 2. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. suggestion • Might I borrow your pen? request Using "Might" in Present. If I entered the contest. Unfortunately. I might go with you. 2. Even if I had entered might might actually have won. She might not have might could. = Present 2. She might be walking problems. NO PRESENT FORM 1. I might enter it. PAST FORM cheese cake. Positive Forms Negative Forms You can Modal Use 1. not win. UNCOMMON Lucid Consulting 10 . = 1. contest. I 2.

"Could not" suggests that it is impossible for something to happen. strong recommendation • Jenny. It is impossible that he has the key. Examples: • Jack might not have the key." "Must not" can be used to prohibit actions. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. although native speakers prefer the more flexible form "have to. REMEMBER: "Might not" vs. You might not want to 3. necessity • You must take some medicine for that cough. Maybe he does not have the key. NEGATIVE FORMS Might I borrow the stapler? may. Lucid Consulting 11 . It can also be used to express necessity or strong recommendation. very calorific. Might I have something to might drink? request could. "Could not" "Might not" suggests you do not know if something happens. You might try the eat the cheese cake. Study the chart below to learn how "must" behaves in different contexts. Must "Must" is most commonly used to express certainty. Past. UNCOMMON (British can form) Requests usually refer to the near future. but this sounds very severe. speakers prefer to use softer modal verbs such as "should not" or "ought not" to dissuade rather than prohibit. Examples: • This must be the right address! certainty • Students must pass an entrance examination to study at this school. It's cheesecake. 3. • Jack could not have the key. you must not play in the street! prohibition Using "Must" in Present.

NO FUTURE FORM 3. They said he was tall with He is supposed to have red bright red hair. You are going to be time off next week to get the designated driver. That caused the should (Americans to get some rest. must 2. It's full of crocodiles. That must have been 2. prefer the form 3. SHIFT TO "SHOULD" "should. 1. You mustn't drink so rest. some rest. 1. You must not forget to take must not your malaria medication prohibition while your are in the tropics. = also use: = Future Future 1. I guess are no other restaurants there is another one around on this street. SHIFT TO "SHOULD" recommendation You should have taken You shouldn't have drunk some time off last week so much. NO FUTURE FORM You must not swim in that river. 1. here somewhere. = Past 3. hair. You must have a 1. That must not be Jerry. much. That must be Jerry. Prohibition usually refer to the near future. accident. That must not have been have to certainty the right restaurant. 3. SHIFT TO "SHOULD" strong 2. You must take some time off and get some 1. = Present 2. It's not good for your health. Positive Forms Negative Forms You can Modal Use 1. must 2. There the right restaurant. = Past 3. SHIFT TO "SHOULD" 3.") You shouldn't drink at the You should take some party. SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" have to necessity permit to enter the We don't have to get a Lucid Consulting 12 . must 1. = Present 2.

It is expected because he deserves it. SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" TO" We didn't have to get a (Americans We had to have a permit permit to enter the national prefer to enter the park. Past. We must get a permit 3. SHIFT TO "HAVE TO" to enter the park next We won't have to get a week. It is forbidden. probability • Mark ought not drink so much. the form "have to. recommendation • Jim ought to get the promotion. Examples: • You must not eat that. • You don't have to eat that. Study the chart below to learn how "ought to" behaves in different contexts. park. advice against something (notice there is no "to") Using "Ought to" in Present.") 3. "Do not have to" suggests that someone is not required to do something. although Americans prefer the less formal forms "should not" or "had better not. 2. and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. permit to enter the national national park. but it is not necessary. park. it is not allowed. • This stock ought to increase in value. Lucid Consulting 13 . "Ought not" (without "to") is used to advise against doing something. "Ought to" also expresses assumption or expectation as well as strong probability. Ought To "Ought to" is used to advise or make recommendations. You can if you want to." Examples: • You ought to stop smoking. "Do not have to" "Must not" suggests that you are prohibited from doing something. REMEMBER: "Must not" vs. often with the idea that something is deserved. permit to enter the national park. SHIFT TO "HAVE 2.

= Future Future use: 1." Examples: • You ought not smoke so much. • They ought not carry so much cash while traveling. Margaret ought to 1. = 1. yesterday. = Present 2. advice marathon. received the package to express negative should expectation. with us. exercise too much. She come to the fitness should go to the fitness center center with us tonight. 3. should prepared for the in good shape. You Positive Forms Negative Forms can Modal Use 1. = also Past 3. She wasn't recommendation. She ought to have the package by now. Americans prefer "should not.) 3. • She ought not take such risks while skiing. recommendations. She ought to receive the package tonight. Instead of "ought not to. Margaret ought not stay at 3. She ought to have "Ought not" is used primarily assumption. Margaret ought not have ought to so she would be better run the marathon. ought to 2. Margaret ought to home in front of the TV. = Past 3. = Present 2. Shall Lucid Consulting 14 . Notice "Ought not" Remember that "ought to" loses the "to" in the negative. 1." "Ought not" is more commonly used in British English. (See probability above. Margaret ought to have exercised more 2." we say "ought not. It might cause injury. 2. Margaret ought not exercise more.

promise • He shall become our next king. Lucid Consulting 15 . for you. the use of "shall" to describe future events often expresses inevitability or predestination. Smith shall become our new director. "Shall" is much more commonly heard in British English than in American English."Shall" is used to indicate future action. although they do sometimes use "shall" in suggestions or formalized language." and is often found in suggestions. promising will I shall make the travel I shall never give up the (British arrangements. predestination • I'm afraid Mr. inevitability More Examples of "Shall" You can Modal Use Positive Forms Negative Forms also use: shall I shall not be replaced after I shall be replaced by someone future action all. It is most commonly used in sentences with "I" or "we. Shall we begin dinner? shall should suggestions Shall we move into the living room? shall I shall take care of everything volunteering. such as "Shall we go?" "Shall" is also frequently used in promises or voluntary actions. I shall never forget you. Examples: • Shall I help you? suggestion • I shall never forget where I came from. will (British I shall not be there. from the New York office. form) a previous obligation. In formal English. I have I shall be there by 8:00. Americans prefer to use other forms. There's no need fight for freedom. form) to worry. the exploration of the universe. shall Man shall explore the distant Man shall never give up inevitability regions of the universe.

you should visit the palaces in Potsdam. = Present 2. Sarah shouldn't ought to recommendation. Martha hates when people smoke Lucid Consulting 16 . and Future Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. cholesterol should eat low-fat smoke so much. much. Study the chart below to learn how "should" behaves in different contexts. = Present 2. recommendation • You should focus more on your family and less on work. That might 2. expectation Using "Should" in Present. form) Should "Should" is most commonly used to make recommendations or give advice. Frank should have eaten low-fat foods. That's what caused her health 3. = Past 3. eating better. they should already be in Dubai. = Future should 1. It's advisability foods. obligation • By now. People with high 1. advice • I really should be in the office by 7:00 AM. = also use: Future Past 3. 2. Sarah shouldn't smoke when she visits Martha next week. It can also be used to express obligation as well as expectation. Positive Forms Negative Forms You can Modal Use 1. 3. Past. Examples: • When you go to Berlin. not good for her health. You really should start problems. Sarah shouldn't have prevented his heart have smoked so attack. = 1. He shall not be held back.(British We shall overcome oppression.

Susan shouldn't York by now. to 3. I should be at work before 9:00. voluntary action • He thinks it will rain tomorrow. 2. prediction More Examples of "Will" Lucid Consulting 17 . "Will" can also be used to make predictions about the future. Susan shouldn't ought to. We should return the video before the video rental store closes. until next week. Will "Will" is used with promises or voluntary actions that take place in the future. in her house. Her new arrive in New York job starts on Monday. Let's have arrived in New should be call her and see what she is up York until expectation supposed to. Susan should have arrived 2. in New York last week. promise • I will make dinner tonight. Examples: • I promise that I will write you every single day. Susan shouldn't York by next week. be should NO NEGATIVE supposed obligation "Should" can also express FORMS to something between recommendation and obligation. be in New York yet. yesterday. 1. "Be supposed to" expresses a similar idea and can easily be used in the past or in negative forms. Susan should be in New 1. Susan should be in New 3.

Lucid Consulting 18 . I will take care of everything for you. conditional • I knew that she would be very successful in her career. shall I will make the travel I will never give up the promising arrangements. Fred will not be there." Additionally. would not raise taxes. past of "will" • When they first met. they would always have picnics on the beach. If I were president. You can Modal Use Positive Forms Negative Forms also use: The marketing director The marketing director will be will not be replaced will replaced by someone from the after all. It also serves as the past form of the modal verb "will. "would" can indicate repetition in the past. shall action. Would "Would" is most commonly used to create conditional verb forms. future New York office. He has a previous obligation. I would 1. = 1. I conditional cut the cost of education. = Past 3. Past. If I were president. prediction Fred will be there by 8:00. worry. = also Future Future use: would 1. Examples: • If he were an actor. = Present 2. repetition Using "Would" in Present. = Present 2. will volunteering. There's no need to fight for freedom. I will never forget you. = Past 3. he would be in adventure movies. and Future You Positive Forms Negative Forms can Modal Use 1.

2. I would When I was a kid. used repetition in to past When he was young. go into the water by myself. here before 8:00. I 3. I said I wouldn't help you. he would always do his homework. 3. If I were president. I would have cut the cost of would not have raised taxes. education. I 2. When I was a kid. If I were elected president would not sign the tax next year. If I had been president. of education. would past of "will" He told me he would be here He told me he would not be before 8:00. I wouldn't would always go to the beach. I said I would help you. If I had been president. I would cut the cost increase next week. Lucid Consulting 19 . he would When he got older. never do his homework.

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