Modal verbs (modal verbs) are very widely 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 when their use is justified. Let's look at the most commonly used 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 ordinary verbs of the English language, modal verbs do not designate any processes or states, but only indicate the attitude 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 (I can write / describe it in a song).
In English, relatively few words of this type. The most used of them are the modal verbs can (could), may (might), must.
The unique properties of modal verbs
- Words of this type belong to the defective verbs (insufficient) because they do not have all the properties of ordinary verbs. For example, of the three above, modal verbs have the individual form in the past tense: can (could), may (might). Most of the other similar terms are devoid of such properties as the time of the future, perfect forms and the passive voice, a continued form (for example, need, ought to and dare, must). In most cases, corresponding equivalent words are used instead.
- Modal verbs do not possess non-personal forms (infinitive, gerund and participle).
- Modal words never act as an independent member of a sentence — only together with another verb in infinitive form, but without the usual part to (except for need to, ought to). For example: I believe I can fly (I believe that I can fly), but: I need to feel loved.
- Unlike other verbs that in the Present Simple (the present tense) in the third person singular receive the ending –s, modals do not have this feature. 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 literally translates as "be able to do something" or "be able to". It is most common in the language of the proud British and is used in speech when the speaker wants to tell what he can, can, or is capable of. For example: Joan can wax her car in two hours with wax.
The modal verb can (could) refers to those modal verbs after which a piece of to is never used. But, as mentioned above, it can have a special form in the past tense. And in the form of the future tense, it is replaced by the be able to. For example: He will be able to repair your microwave oven tomorrow. It is worth noting that in this sentence, the verb shall serves not as a modal, but as an auxiliary word for the future tense.
What is the meaning of the word can in sentences?
- Most often, the verb can (could) means the ability or the ability to do something (physical and mental). In such a case, the translation uses the Russian words “to be able” or “to be able”. For example: Mary can’t come to the phone now (Masha cannot answer the phone now); I can knit clothes for everyone (I can knit clothes for everyone).
- The modal word can is used in the sentence, if we are talking about a well-known statement, and is translated with the help of the verb “can”. For example: A polar bear can live up to 18 years on average in a wild (a 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 sense.
- Quite often, the word can is used in requests, bans, 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 in order to offer something or ask for permission, you should use an interrogative form: Can I (you, we, she, he, it) ... But in order to allow someone This can, can be used in the usual affirmative sentence. For example: You can do it right now (you / you can / can do it right now). Barring something, as a rule, negative sentences are used, in which can can be translated using the word "no": You can’t take it with you (You cannot take it with you / You should not take it with you).
- In some cases, the modal verb can (could) can be used to indicate a doubt (a sentence with a denial) or a surprise (an interrogative). Then the following expressions are used to translate it: “it cannot be”, “really”, “it’s hard to believe” and “probably”, “it’s possible”. For example: Can this be true? (Is it really possible to be true?) By the way, in this case, when I mean that the action takes place in the past, instead of what could be used can’t have -You can’t have forgotten it? (Did you really forget everything I told you about him?).
Other modal verbs with a similar meaning
In some cases, they can act as synonyms of the verb can / could - must, may / might. So, the modal word may and its individual form might used in the past tense have the meaning of possibility, prohibition, permission or asking someone for something: May I ask you? (May I ask you?). This question-request can be translated into English otherwise: Can I ask you something?
Must is the most formal of all the above modal verbs. It is used to indicate need, order, or persevering advice: You must do it. Unlike can and may, it does not have a special form for use in the past tense, but it has its own equivalent to to.
The modal verbs can, could, must, may can be used with equal success in sentences-requests. But the verb must be a shade of obligation, 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 couldn’t have seen him (She could not see him), but: She mightn’t have seen him (She probably could not see him). In the first sentence, he couldn’t express a firm conviction that a certain event was impossible, while in the second one he couldn’t signify doubt, probability, but not firm certainty.
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 acceptable to replace it with the equivalent of was / were able to). For example, the sentence: I could see that she was nervous (I could see that she was nervous), you can translate this way - I was able to see that she was nervous. However, the first option is preferable to use. But there is a difference - the modal verb could means the ability to do something in principle, and was / were able to refer to this possibility only in a particular case.
The form could, although considered to be intended for use in the past tense, but can be freely used in the present as well as in the future. The most common cases of use in speech could be:
- In terms of the probability of an event, if you can safely replace it with other modal words: may / might. For example: You could be the one who listens.
- In conditional clauses: I could be my baby if you call my name (I can be the only one who stays, baby, if you call me by name).
- In the role of offering any service or advice, someone could be used only in affirmative sentences of the past and future tenses. For example: you could be more healthy if you did exercise regularly.
- In the role of a polite request for the near future: Could I borrow your pen? (May I borrow your pen?). In this case, you could freely replace the could with verbs can or may.
- As an ability in the past, however, if it was short-term, it was acceptable to use only the negative form couldn’t. For example: Jane could speak Polish when she was a kid (Jane knew how to speak Polish when she was still a child). Yesterday, my dad couldn’t lift the couch by itself (Yesterday, my father could not lift the sofa on his own).
How are different types of sentences constructed with the modal verb can?
The classic statement is constructed using the following scheme: the acting person + can / could + the acting verb + minor sentence members. For example: I can hear the birds (I can hear the birds).
In the case of a negation, a piece of not is added after the modal verb. For example: She can not read very fast.
The interrogative sentence will differ in its order from the affirmative and negative: can / could + acting person + verb + minor members. For example: Can I take a picture with you? (Can i take a photo with you?).
Set expressions with the 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’t stand somebody / something - do not stand / get annoyed because of someone / something. For example: Nobody can stand when he smokes a cigar (Nobody can bear Tom when he smokes a cigar / Everyone annoys when Tom smokes a cigar).
Can’t / couldn’t but do something - have no choice but to do something. For example: I couldn’t but agree with her (I had no choice but to agree with her).
Can’t / couldn’t help doing something - unable to resist not to do something. For example, the name of the song Elvis Presley: Can't Help Falling in Love (I can't 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 a few tasks that will help to deal with the modal verb can.
In the first exercise, you must choose the correct form: can / could or its equivalent for the future time be able to - and insert it in the place of the gaps.
In the second task, you need to make a choice what to put in the passes: can / can’t or could / couldn’t.
In the final exercise, it is necessary to insert modal verbs at the point of omission: can, could, may, must, shall, should or.
The modal verb can and all its forms are an integral part of any polite conversation, which means that they cannot be disregarded when learning the language of the British and Americans, especially its spoken form. Information about these modal words is not very much, so it will be easy to remember clearly. And the best way to achieve this is to constantly train, perform exercises and communicate in English with friends.