Use of Can - Learn English Grammar Online

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In this lesson we will study the correct usage of ‘can’ in a conversation.


Lucy: ‘Can’ is a modal auxiliary verb. It’s used to express certain meanings - for example possibility, ability, requests or permission. Mark, why don’t you give me some examples?

Mark: I can leave my car in that parking space.

Lucy: Okay. You’re saying that you’ll possibly leave your car there.

Mark: Can you help me with my work?

Lucy: This is a good one because it’s an informal request. We’re friends so it’s appropriate.

Mark: Can I smoke in this room?

Lucy: Now you’ve just used ‘can’ to ask for my permission to do something.

Lucy: You can’t smoke in here. Please go outside.

Mark: Okay, I understood. You used the negative which means I don’t have permission to smoke in here.

Lucy: That is correct. Now let me give you an example, Mark. I can speak Portuguese. Can you?

Mark: No, I cannot. It’s cool that you have the ability to speak Portuguese. I can only speak English.

Lucy: Now let’s see some sample conversations:

Conversation 1

Karen: Hey Jamie. Can you help me out with something?

Jamie: Yes, I can. I just need to finish some work here first.

Karen: No problem. When will you be free?

Jamie: In half an hour or so.

Karen: Okay. I can wait that much. I’ll be outside.

Conversation 2

Alan: Can you play any instruments, Garry?

Garry: No, I cannot. Can you?

Alan: Yes, I can play the guitar.

Garry: That's great. I myself can't play any instruments but I can sing well.

Alan: Yes, you can. I've heard you before.

Garry: Truth is I love music. And I can memorize things fast so I know many lyrics by heart.

Alan: I can see now why you always have some music on.

Garry: Yes, I can't live without good music.

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