Can is a really useful verb, we use it for ability, permission, possibility and suggestions.
We use can to say that we are able (or not able) to do things.
We also use this verb to ask for and give permission.
We also use can to say that something is a possibility or to suggest a possibility.
Can is the same for all persons. This is because it is a modal verb. There are lots of modal verbs in English (must, should, would etc…) The good news is that you don’t need to change (conjugate) these verbs for different people like we do with most verbs.
The verb that we use after a modal verb is always in the bare infinitive form. The bare infinitive is like the infinitive (to be, to do, to go etc…) but without the to.
to speak English. ✘
I can speak English. ✔
This table has examples of the verb can used in sentences for different subject pronouns. They are always all the same for all persons for modal verbs.
|I||can||I can speak English.|
|You||can||You can speak English.|
|He / She / It||can||He can speak English. / She can speak English. / It can speak English.|
|We||can||We can speak English.|
|They||can||They can speak English.|
To use can in negative form, add not. This is the negative form of can which is most commonly used in formal English.
I can not understand him.
The words can and not are often combined into a single word; cannot. This form is often used for emphasis.
I cannot understand him.
They are also sometimes contracted into can’t. This is probably the commonest negative form in spoken and informal English.
I can’t understand him.
To use can in questions, just change the order of the verb (can) and the subject (the person or thing) . Look at these examples.
Statement: You can do it!
Question: Can you do it?
Here are some more examples of questions using can. Some of them use question words like who, where or what.
“Can” in positive and the contracted form “can’t” in negative have different vowel sounds.
The “a” in “can” often has an æ sound, like in cat, bat, rat, sat or mat.
However, we often pronounce “can” as /kən/, with a very weak vocal sound. This sound, ə, is te same as at the end of footballer or computer. It is the most common sound in the English language.
The “a” in “can’t” has an ɑː sound like car, bar, far or jar.
Check that you understand this topic with the interactive exercises below!