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What Is The Difference Between Can And Could?

Can and could are modal verbs that describe the possibility or ability. A can is considered as the verb in present form and could is its past form.

There are more different circumstances in which their use is changed and they illustrate diverse meanings. These terms are same in meaning as can means the aptitude to do work so these terms are often and we mix them together.

In this article, we will explain that learning these model verbs are how much important and how these verbs are vital parts of the English grammar.

Use Of Can


As we know that, can is a modal verb which describes the skill of doing work of a noun or subject. The verb can is used to show the ability or permission or the possibility of something of a noun.

Another mandatory thing is that can is used only when we are describing any necessity in the present tense.


  • Alex can sing a song. Here the word can is describing the ability of singing.
  • Can we go to the museum? The word can here is indicating the act of asking for permission.
  • We can purchase some of these clothes. The word can here is used for the indication of the possibility of something.
  • Can we harvest crops in this field? Here can is used for asking a permission.
  • We have got enough money so we can buy a new car. Here can is showing the possibility.
  • Max can run faster than us. Here can is used to show the ability.

Use Of Could


The verb could is used to show the ability or permission or the possibility of something of a noun that could happen in the past.

Just like can, we must know that could is used only when we are describing any necessity in the present tense.


  • They could have come to the meeting. In this the could is describing that they had the permission in the past but now they don’t.
  • James could be a runner. This is describing that James had the possibility of being a runner but now it’s not possible.
  • She could have been a winner. This is describing that she had the ability to be a winner but it’s not possible in the present.

Use Of Not With Can

If we use can along with not i.e. can not, it becomes the negative form of the can and it determines that there is no ability, or possibility or not having the permission of doing something. We can also write cannot as can’t.


  • Dad says we cannot go to the picnic today. This is describing not having permission.
  • The taxi can’t have arrived yet. This is indicating the Impossibility.
  • Eddy can’t sing. This is describing that Eddy does not have the ability to sing.

And if we write can and not separately then their meanings are totally changed. Somehow differently it shows the permission or possibility of doing something. For Example, We can not go to attend the lecture today. This is indicating the permission to skip the lecture.

Use Of Could With Not

If we use could along with not i.e. could not, it becomes the negative form of could and it shows that there was no ability, or possibility or not having the permission of doing something in the past. Just like can, we can also write could not as couldn’t.

  • We couldn’t go out for a walk yesterday. Describing that we didn’t have permission.
  • couldn’t afford to go on a trip to Paris. It is showing an impossibility.
  • He could not dance as a child. It is showing that he didn’t have the ability.

Use Of Could And Can In Conditional Cases And Making Request

Use of can and could for making request

Could and can are also used to make polite requests and applying conditionsWhen making requests, asking for a permission or stating possibility we just have to play with these words. The difference while making the request is that could is a little more formal than the can.

  • You could have come to the concert. This is showing the condition that you had the permission in past but not now.
  • Can I borrow a book? This seems informal.
  • Could I borrow a book? This is formal than above example.

I hope with the help of these examples it would be easier for you to understand the difference and if you have any query you can write it down in the comments section.


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