can, could and be able to
She can do many things.
She’s able to do many
Use can or be able to to talk about
ability in the present.
Note: In everyday speech, can is more common than
be able to in the present.
Ability -
We normally use will be
able to to talk about ability
in the future.
The way you practise, I am sure
you’ll be able to play soccer for
your school team.
However, we often use can / can’t to talk about
future arrangements.
I can go to the soccer game with you tomorrow.
Ability -
Sam could read when he was
*Use could for general ability in
the past.
*Use managed to or was / were able to to talk about
a specific achievement or a single event in the past.
He managed to delete the virus from his computer.
He was able to fix his computer when it broke down.
Ability -
Use either could or was / were able to in
negative sentences about past ability.
He couldn’t wake up this morning.
He wasn’t able to get to school in
time to make the test.
Ability -
Use could with verbs of perception, like see,
smell, hear, taste, feel, even if it is one
He couldn’t hear what
the teacher said during
the course.
Ability -
For forms and tenses
other than the present
or past, use be able to.
He wants to be able to save the museum. (infinitive)
Maybe in the next movie, he will be able to save
more important people. (future)
It’s ok for him not being able to fly a plane. (-ing)
He hasn’t been able to find a girlfriend so far.
(present perfect)
Complete the sentences with CAN, COULD or BE ABLE TO.
1. George has traveled a lot. He ______________ speak four
CAN / IS ABLE TO (ability in the present)
2. I used to ______________ stand on my head but I can't
do it now.
BE ABLE TO (used to)
3. When Tim was 16, he was a fast runner. He __________
run 20 kilometers in 1 hour.
COULD / WAS ABLE TO (ability in the past)
4. Sandra ______________ drive but she doesn’t have a car.
CAN / IS ABLE TO (ability in the present)
5. Ask Catherine about your problem. She might __________
help you.
BE ABLE TO (might)
6. I was feeling sick yesterday. I ______________ eat
COULDN’T (ability in the past)
7. Sue wasn't at home when I phoned but I ________
contact her at her office.
WAS ABLE TO (a specific achievement)
8. When we went into the house, we ___________ smell
COULD (verb of perception)
9. Will she ______________ cope with the work?
BE ABLE TO (future)
10. I can't see you on Friday but I ______________ meet
you on Saturday evening.
CAN / WILL BE ABLE TO (future)
Adapted from http://www.tolearnenglish.com
11. My grandfather _________ walk without any help last
WAS ABLE TO (ability in the past – specific achievement)
12. They _________ build a new house next year.
WILL BE ABLE TO (future)
13. I would like to __________ play the piano.
BE ABLE TO (infinitive)
14. When my sister was five, she _________swim.
COULD NOT (ability in the past)
15. How long have you ___________ drive?
BEEN ABLE TO (present perfect)
16. Maggie has passed her driving test, now she ________
drive a car.
CAN (ability in the present)
17. He _____________ find the password after three
WAS ABLE TO (ability in the past – specific)
18. Claire _________do her homework because her
desk is a mess.
19. They were so busy, they ______ write me a text
COULD NOT (ability in the past)
20. When I was a child, I __________ skateboard.
COULD (ability in the past)
FALLA, Tim. Solutions Upper-Intermediate, Oxford,
FUCHS, Marjorie & BONNER, Margaret. Grammar
Express, Longman, 2003
VINCE, Michael. Macmillan English Grammar in
Context, Macmillan, 2008
Developed by Kátia Martins Pereira

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