Modals Part Four

Skill: Grammar  

Category: General English & Academic English

Level: Upper-Intermediate


Part Four

Using “Can”, “Know how to” and “be able to” to express ability


Can expresses physical ability and can is frequently used with the verbs of five senses like: see, hear, feel, smell and taste. In addition, can has three negative forms: cannot, can’t or can not which the last one is unusual in written English.


– The trainer in the gym is very strong. He can lift 300 Kgs.

– I can’t wait for my husband to get back home.

Know how to: Can and know how to express an already learned skill.


– Mariana knows how to play tennis.

– Mariana can play tennis.

In these examples know how to and can express the same meaning and a learned skill.

Be able to also expresses ability


– She is able to play an important role as a boss.

– I am not able to speak French fluently.

– I am unable to speak French fluently.

Exercise. Rewrite the sentences using be able to

– Torres can’t ride a motorcycle without a helmet. ____________________________________

– Can you send this e-mail to your boss in due time. ___________________________________

– They can fix your computer they way you want. _____________________________________

Using “Can”, “May” and “Might” to express possibility

Use can for general possibility.

Ex: You can learn a lot of English by watching English sows.

In this sentence you can learn means it is possible for all people in general to learn.

May or might:

They show a situation which may happen by chance and they express present or future possibly.

Ex: Ford cars may/might be more expensive in that car store. (There is a chance)

Ex: Lisa may need your help for learning Spanish. (There is a chance that Lisa needs your help)

Exercise. Check grammatically correct sentences.

1-         a. The weather may be snowy tomorrow.

            b. The weather can be snowy tomorrow.

2-         a. Eating snack food every day can be harmful.

            b. Eating snack food every day may be harmful.

3-         a. This house seems nice, but it can be too far from downtown.

            b. This house seems nice, but it may be too far from downtown.

Using “Let’s” and “Why don’t” to make suggestion

Ex: Let’s talk about that issue.

Ex: Why don’t we talk about that issue.

Let’s means I have a suggestion for us.

Negative: Let’s + not + simple form

Ex: Let’s not to make an appointment tomorrow.

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