Can is an auxiliary verb, a modal auxiliary verb. We use can to:
- talk about possibility and ability
- make requests
- ask for or give permission
Structure of can
The basic structure for can is:
The main verb is always the bare infinitive (infinitive without to).
- Can is invariable. There is only one form: can
- The main verb is always the bare infinitive.
Use of can
can for possibility and ability
We use can to talk about what is possible, what we are able or free to do:
- She can drive a car.
- John can speak Spanish.
- I cannot hear you. (I can't hear you.)
- Can you hear me?
Normally, we use can for the present. But it is possible to use can when we make present decisions about future ability.
- Can you help me with my homework? (present)
- Sorry. I'm busy today. But I can help you tomorrow. (future)
can for requests and orders
We often use can in a question to ask somebody to do something. This is not a real question - we do not really want to know if the person is able to do something, we want them to do it! The use of can in this way is informal (mainly between friends and family):
- Can you make a cup of coffee, please.
- Can you put the TV on.
- Can you come here a minute.
- Can you be quiet!
can for permission
We sometimes use can to ask or give permission for something:
- Can I smoke in this room?
- You can't smoke here, but you can smoke in the garden.
(Note that we also use could, may, might for permission. The use of can for permission is informal.)