Difference Between Can and Could

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 31, 2023


Difference Between Can and Could

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The act or ability can't be described without an adjective, and when discussing it, the helper verb plays a vital function. There are two kinds of helping verbs: Modal verbs and auxiliary words. "Can" and "could" are two examples of these two kinds of verbs, and vice versa. The former is commonly used in the present, whereas “could" can be a more past version of the word 'can'.

"Can" In its literal sense, the word "can" is "to be capable of doing something" or "permitted to complete the task". To express or explain the ability of someone to perform something in the present, the word "can is employed.

For instance, "I can dance" or "Can you take out your pen?"

While the meaning of "could" is similar to " can, " it's used to talk about someone's previous capability to accomplish or complete a job. It is likewise used to state the ability of somebody to do somewhat.

 However, they may not be able to accomplish it . For  instance, "The earthquake could have been more severe" and "The food might have been better tasting."

Can vs Could

The primary distinction between could and can is their use and tone. "Can" is utilized to denote an act or condition in the present moment "could", which is an older form of and is used to symbolize the past capability. Speaking of tone, the word 'can' sounds informal, while 'could' is more formal—an official tone.

Difference Between Can and Could in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonsCanCould
MeaningThe ability to perform somethingA thought about the act to perform something
VerbPresent ParticiplePast participle
Ability to UsePossibility or abilityPast capability and potential
Grammar RulesPresent      Past and Future

What is "Can"?

"Can" is a verb "can" is a modal verb. It's the most basic version of the verb. It is used most often to write or speak in English. It is usually used to depict a current scenario. It demonstrates ability or possibility.

It also serves to inform someone that they can do something. In addition to expressing someone else's capability to do anything, "can" is also used to ask permission, request approval, or communicate potential and possibility.

Examples of these examples are as follows:

  • Ability: I can make music and also dance.
  • Permission: Can I borrow a pen?
  • Requirement: Can you help me with completing a project?
  • Chances: You can be the winner.
  • Offering: Can I help you to traverse the road?
  • It is also a virtuous knowledge to enquire a reverential query but only when looking for for approval to do or tell somewhat.

Forms and Usage of Can

There are other ways applications of Can, as we'll see below.

To communicate the ability

Can the term be used to describe being (physically) capable of doing something or knowing how to accomplish something?

  • Birds can fly.
  • Elephants aren't able to fly.
  • can speak two languages.

To state a possible (in general)

This refers to a viable possibility.

It is significant to a memo that we don't hire the word "can" to deliberate forthcoming choices. To do this, you'd use might or may.

  • It could be cold in the evening, so make sure you wear an extra jacket.
  • I am sure that you will beat the competition.
  • I'm sure your vehicle could be fixed, but it's unlikely to be cheap.

Offer the opportunity to help other people

This is when you offer to assist someone or do something for them.

  • It's not necessary to walk back home. I could accompany you to the airport If you'd like.
  • Do I take your bags on your behalf?

To request or grant permission or to request something

It is used to solicit or ask permission or give consent.

Notice: Can't is used to deny consent.

  • You can make use of my umbrella. But I don't require it right now.
  • Do I have a seat in the chair, Please?
  • Mary, you are welcome to play outdoors if you want.
  • Can I ask you a question?
  • You aren't able to visit the park. The park will still be damp because of the rain last night.
  • We aren't able to quit our room until the project is finished.

Is prohibited or is not permitted.

  • We can't park our vehicle close to this firewater source.
  • You can't speed as much as you'd like within the urban area. There are speed limits.
  • You cannot smoke inside the restaurant.
  • You are not able to drive a vehicle without a driver's license.

Don't: when you're sure that something isn't the truth or something seems to be surprising.

  • It isn't going to be dark out! It's just 4.30 pm!
  • They shouldn't be on the moon. I'm pretty sure that it's a prank.

For more examples, such as how to ask questions, check out our grammar guidelines on Can not. You may also request to square available our Can't - Can’t “Cannot" game.


We employ the word "can't" as a type of question to get people not to do something that we do not want them to do or to refrain from doing something else that we would like to see them do:

Why can't they stop making that horrible noise?

Why shouldn't you be kind to her instead of causing her upset?


We employ it as a form for asking questions to create offers:

Can you help me to lift this?

Can We assist you?

Affirmative (+) form

Can is the first word within the phrase verbal (after the subject but ahead of an additional verb):

We [verbal expression] can travel by train that goes to Birmingham.

Can is not used in conjunction in conjunction with another modal verb

He can hear music from his bedroom at times.

Not: He might even be able to hear the music. It is possible that he can detect the music. ...

Question (?) form

We employ "can" or don't in the question tags:

You aren't allowed to take photographs in museums, do you?

Abby speaks Japanese, can't she?

What is "Could"?

"Could" is a verb "could" can be an additional verb which is a present form that is a past participle of "can". It typically depicts the past capability of someone to accomplish something that could or might have never happened. It's a term used to describe something you trust or believe will happen.

Alongside past capability, it is also utilized to communicate a possibility. The word "could" can be used in the future as a present tense of "can". Furthermore, it can indicate something, request permission, or as a conditional variant to "can".

The examples of that statement above are listed below:

  • Ability: I could sing well when I was younger.
  • Chances: You could get good marks this time around.
  • Idea: He could rewrite and correct the errors.
  • Permission Could I have the document?

The conditional version translates to "can": I could prepare you a meal if you said what you would like to at.

Forms and Usage of Could

To show the ability of the past

  • was able to ride a horse when I was younger, but today I cannot.
  • She was able to play with eight balls when she was 10 years old.
  • He was able to read at the age of just three.

The polite word that is used to request permission or to ask for something (in the current)

  • Do you think I will make use of your bathroom?
  • Do we start the next topic, Please?
  • Do you give me some salt, please?
  • I'm in the middle of a busy moment. Can you return my call at a later time?

General permissions in the past

  • In high school, we could not quit the class without a ticket.
  • He could not attend the show since his mom wouldn't let him go.

A suggestion to answer the question of how you should do (choices and possibilities)

  • It is possible that he could try to repair it by himself.
  • We can visit the cinema If you're interested.

It's possible that something isn't true

Similar to couldn't is the same, you can also use couldn't when you're confident that something isn't true.

  • It can't be my cat yelling outside. It was hit by a vehicle last week.
  • He would not have drawn such a thing. He isn't an artist whatsoever.

Can + could have + past participle: To indicate an opportunity in the past

To say that something could have happened but didn't happen.

  • We were fortunate because it could have been raining, but it did not.
  • Why did you do it? You might have injured your leg.

Have + could have + the past participle: Unrealized past capability

This can be used to mean that someone can perform something. However, they did not attempt to accomplish it. Sometimes, it is a form of criticism.

  • He could have got married to anyone she chose to.
  • Why were you sitting there in silence? It's because you could have assisted me.

Can: A conditional version of Can

Could + Would = Can. Notice: I would be able to substitute for Can with the examples below.

  • If we could find some citrus in the fridge, I might make freshly squeezed juice.
  • might compose the letters if you tell me what you would like to include.

Affirmative (+) form

Could be the first word within the phrase verbal (after the subject, but before an additional verb):

There is a possibility that we could take lunch in the morning.

It could not be used in conjunction with a different modal verb

We might travel to France

Not: We could travel to France or even travel to France.

Negative ("-")) form

The negative variant of could is can't. We don't associate don't don't/ doesn't didn't with could.:

He's not able to lift the weight. It's just too heavy.

Not: He wasn't able to lift that. ...

The complete form but not in formal settings or when we need to highlight something.

Fabio was terrified. He was unable to lift his arm. He was stuck.

Question (?) form

Subject and can shift positions to create questions. We don't use do/does/did:

Can you pay using a credit/debit card?

Not: Can I pay using a credit card?

We employ the words "could" and could not in the question tags:

I could return the next day, couldn't I?

Main Differences Between Can and Could in Points

  • The term 'can' is used to indicate the capability of a person or thing to accomplish something. However, the word 'could' may be used to indicate the past power of someone when doing something.
  • The word "could" indicates doubt regarding the possibility of a particular scenario, whereas the word "can" guarantees the event. So “could" is an unproven possibility, while "can" indicates an extreme probability for an event.
  • "Can" is used to express present circumstances, i.e. they are used as a present verb. However, the word "could" refers to the past of could. For example, I could write articles. (fact) I would like that I could write the articles (in future)
  • The verb "can" is a modal verb. Its use is preceded by the primary verb that states facts, while the verb "could" is a present variant of can/past participle, which is used alongside the principal verb to indicate the past capabilities of someone.
  • Although the meanings of both words are the same, however, their tones differ. "Can" is more informal, and 'Elder' has a more formal, courteous manner of speaking. The former is typically utilized when speaking to relatives or friends, and the latter is employed when talking to professionals, seniors, and strangers.


Verbs are an essential part of both spoken and written English because they provide order to sentences and also help to stabilize the grammar. The words 'could' and 'can typically place together as they share similar meanings.

The two words, such as 'could' and 'can' be utilized interchangeably. The juxtaposition of these two words is frequent. Both words communicate the same meanings: potential, ability and permission, and suggestion or request.

The only difference between the two words are different is the tense" can" is associated with current events. In contrast, the other word is used with the discussion of past capabilities or potential. "Could" can also be utilized when discussing the future.

In the context of asking permission or soliciting, or even proposing something, both 'can could' and 'can' are utilized; however” could" is more formal. In contrast, “can" sounds casual and is often used in casual Manners.


  • https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/english-grammar-reference/can-and-could
  • https://www.inenglishwithlove.com/blog/difference-between-can-could


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"Difference Between Can and Could." Diffzy.com, 2024. Thu. 29 Feb. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-can-and-could-1227>.

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