Modal verbs are very actively used in English, so the ability to correctly apply them is very important. To learn this, it is necessary to know the distinctive features of such words and in which cases it is justified to use them. Let's look at the most applicable modal verbs: can / could (be able to). But first of all we will understand what modal verbs are and how they differ from ordinary verbs.
What verbs are called modal?
Unlike the usual verbs of the English language, modal verbs do not designate any processes or states, but merely indicate the relation of the actor to the action itself. For this reason, they are not used independently, but are always part of the predicate composed of verbs. For example: I can write it in a song.
In English there are relatively few words of this kind. The most used of them are modal verbs can (could), may (might), must.
Unique properties of modal verbs
- Words of this type belong to defective verbs (insufficient) because they do not possess all the properties of ordinary verbs. For example, of the three above, the individual verb forms have modal verbs: can (could), may (might). Most other similar terms are devoid of such properties as the time of the future, perfect forms and passive voice, the continued form (for example: need, ought to and dare, must). In most cases, equivalent equivalent words are used instead.
- Modal verbs do not have impersonal forms (infinitive, gerund and communion).
- Modal words never act as an independent member of the sentence - only together with another verb in the infinitive form, but without the usual part of to (except need to, ought to). For example: I believe I can fly (I believe that I can fly), but: I need to feel loved (I need to feel loved).
- Unlike other verbs, which in the Present Simple (in the present tense) in the III person singular receive the ending -s, the modal ones do not have such a singularity. For example: She can read very well (She can read very well), but: My sister reads tales (My sister reads fairy tales).
The modal verb can in English
This modal word is literally translated as "being able to do something" or "be able". It is the most common in the language of proud British and is used in speech when a speaker wants to tell what he can, can or can do. For example: Joan can wax her car in two hours.
The modal verb can (could) refers to those modal verbs, after which the particle to is never used. But, as already mentioned above, it has a special form could in the past tense. And in the form of future time, it is replaced by the equivalent of be able to. For example: He will be able to repair your microwave oven tomorrow (He will be able to fix your microwave tomorrow). It should be noted that in this sentence, the shall is not a modal verb, but an auxiliary word for the future tense.
What is the semantic load in the sentences of the word can?
- Most often the verb can (could) means the ability or ability to do something (physical and mental). In such a case, the translation uses the Russian words "able" or "able". For example: Mary can not come to the phone now (Masha can not approach the phone now); I can knit clothes for everyone.
- The modal word can be used in a sentence, if it is a question of a well-known statement, and is translated using the verb "can." For example: A polar bear can live up to 18 years on average in the wild (Polar Bear can live in the wild for about 18 years). It is worth considering the fact that the modal verb could never be used in this meaning.
- Quite often the word can is used in requests, prohibitions, permits, and sometimes offers to do something. For example, the classic appeal of consultants in stores: Can I help you? (Can I help you?). This example is worth remembering, because for something to offer something or ask for permission, it's worth using a questionnaire form: Can I (you, we, she, he, it) ... But in order to allow someone to solve something, you can use it in a normal affirmative sentence. For example: You can do it right now (You / You can / can do it right now). Prohibiting something, as a rule, negative sentences are used, in which can be translated using the word "impossible": You can not take it with you (You can not take it with you / You can not take it with you).
- In some cases, the modal verb can (could) be used to denote a doubt (a sentence with a negative) or surprise (interrogative). Then for its translation expressions are used: "can not be", "really", "it is not believed" and "probably", "it is possible". For example: Can this be true? (Could it really be true?) By the way, in this case, when it is meant that the action takes place in the past, instead of could be used can not have -You can not have it. (Did you forget everything I told you about him?).
Other modal verbs with a similar meaning
In some cases, can be as synonymous with the verbs can / could - must, may / might. So, the modal word may and its individual form might, used in the past tense, have the meaning of the possibility, prohibition, permission or request of someone about something: May I ask you? (Can I ask you something?). This question-request can be translated into English differently: Can I ask you something?
Must is the most formal of all the above modal verbs. It is used to refer to necessity, order or persistent advice: You must do it. Unlike can and may, it does not have a specific form for use in the past tense, but there is a proper equivalent of have to.
Modal verbs can, could, must, may be used with equal success in sentences-requests. But the verb must has a tinge of obligatory, may - formalities, can - neutral, and could - an extreme degree of polite treatment.
In some cases, could could have the same meaning as may / might. But it is worth remembering that in a negative form they are somewhat different. For example: She could not see him (She could not see him), but: She might not have seen him. (She probably could not see him). In the first sentence, could not express a firm belief in the impossibility of a certain event, and in the second might not denote doubt, probability, but not firm confidence.
Could and be able to
As a rule, modal verb can be used in the present tense, in the future - be able to, and in the past in most cases - its form could (although it is permissible to replace it with the equivalent was / were able to). For example, the sentence: I could see that she was nervous (I could see that she was nervous), I can translate and so - I was able to see that she was nervous. However, the first option is preferable to use. But there is a difference - a modal verb could mean the ability to do something in principle, but was / were able to touch on this possibility only in a particular case.
Although the form could be considered to be used in the past tense, it could be used freely in the present as well as in the future times. The most common cases of use in speech could be:
- In the meaning of the probability of an event, if it can be safely replaced by other modal words: may / might. For example: You could be the one who listens (You can be the one who listens).
- In sentences-conditions: I could be the one who stays, baby, if you call my name (I can be the only one left, baby, if you call me by name).
- In the role of offering any service or advice to someone, it could only be used in affirmative sentences of the past and future times. For example: You could be more healthy if you did exercise regularly (you could be more healthy if you did the exercises regularly).
- In the role of a polite request relating to the near future: Could I borrow your pen? (Can I borrow your pen?). In this case, it can be freely replaced by the could or can verbs.
- As an ability in the past, however, if it was short-term, it is permissible to use only negative form could not. For example: Jane could speak Polish when she was a kid (Jane could speak Polish when she was a child). (Yesterday my father could not lift the couch on his own).
How are different types of sentences constructed with the modal verb can?
The classical statement is based on the following scheme: the current person + can / could + the current verb + the secondary members of the sentence. For example: I can hear the birds.
In the case of negation, a notch is added after the modal verb. For example: She can not read very fast (She can not read very fast).
The interrogative sentence by its order will differ from the affirmative and negative: can / could + the acting person + the verb + the secondary members. For example: Can I take a picture with you? (Can i take a photo with you?).
Stable expressions with modal words can and could
The verb can (could), like most modal words, is part of several well-established phrases. The most famous among them are:
Can not stand somebody / something - do not stand / get irritated because of someone / something. For example: Nobody can stand Tom when he smokes a cigar (Nobody tolerates Tom when he smokes a cigar / All annoying when Tom smokes a cigar).
Can not / could not but do something - have no other way out how to do something. For example: I could not but agree with her (I had no choice but to agree with her).
Can not / could not help doing something - unable to resist not to do something. For example, the name of Elvis Presley's song: Can not Help Falling in Love (I can not help falling in love).
Modal verb can (could): Exercises
Few things contribute to the assimilation of new material, as its practical application. Therefore, below are some tasks that will help you understand the modal verb can.
In the first exercise, you must select the correct form: can / could or its equivalent for future time be able to - and insert it at the place of the passes.
In the second task, you need to make a choice what to put in the blanks: can / can not or could / could not.
In the final exercise, it is necessary to insert the modal verbs in the place of the passes: can, could, may, must, shall, should or would.
The modal verb can and all its forms are an integral part of any polite conversation, and therefore, they can not be dispensed with when studying the language of the British and Americans, especially its colloquial form. Information about these modal words is not very much, therefore it will be easy to remember it clearly. And the best way to achieve this is by constantly training, doing exercises and communicating in English with friends.