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Unit 26. Can, could and (be) able to

A. We use can to say that something is possible or that somebody has the ability to do something.

* We use can + infinitive (can do/can see etc.):

* We can see the lake from our bedroom window.

* Can you speak any foreign languages?

* I can come and see you tomorrow if you like.

The negative is can't (= cannot):

* I'm afraid I can't come to the party on Friday.


B. (Be) able to ... is possible instead of can, but can is more usual:

* Are you able to speak any foreign languages?

But can has only two forms, can (present) and could (past). So sometimes it is necessary to use (be) able to... Compare:

* I can't sleep.

but I haven't been able to sleep recently. (can has no present perfect)

* Tom can come tomorrow.

but Tom might be able to come tomorrow. (can has no infinitive)


C. Could and was able to...

Sometimes could is the past of can. We use could especially with:

see hear smell taste feel remember understand

* When we went into the house, we could smell burning.

* She spoke in a very low voice, but I could understand what she said.

We also use could to say that somebody had the general ability or permission to do something:

* My grandfather could speak five languages.

* We were completely free. We could do what we wanted. (= we were allowed to do ...)

We use could for general ability. But if we are talking about what happened in a particular situation, we use was/were able to... or managed to... (not could):

* The fire spread through the building quickly but everybody was able to escape.

or ... everybody managed to escape. (but not 'could escape')

* They didn't want to come with us at first but we managed to persuade them.

or ... we were able to persuade them. (but not 'could persuade')


* Jack was an excellent tennis player. He could beat anybody. he had the general ability to beat anybody)


* Jack and Alf had a game of tennis yesterday. Alf played very well but in the end Jack managed to beat him. or ... was able to beat him. (= he managed to beat him in this particular game)

The negative couldn't (could not) is possible in all situations:

* My grandfather couldn't (could not) is possible in all situations

* We tried hard but we couldn't persuade them to come with us.

* Alf played well but he couldn't beat Jack.


26.1 Complete the sentences using can or (be) able to. Use can if possible; otherwise use (be) able to.

1. George has travelled a lot. He _can_ speak four languages.

2. I haven't _been able to_ sleep very well recently.

3. Sandra --- drive but she hasn't got a car.

4. I can't understand Martin. I've never --- understand him.

5. I used to --- stand on my head but I can't do it now.

6. I can't see you on Friday but I --- meet you on Saturday morning.

7. Ask Catherine about your problem. She might --- help you.


26.2 Write sentences about yourself using the ideas in brackets.

1. (something you used to be able to do) I used to be able to sing well.

2. (something you used to be able to do) I used ---

3. (something you would like to be able to do) I'd ---

4. (something you have never been able to do) I've ---


26.3 Complete the sentences with can/can't/could/couldn't + one of these verbs:

come cat hear run sleep wait

1. I'm afraid I _can't come_ to your party next week.

2. When Tim was 16, he was a fast runner. He --- 100 meters in 11 seconds.

3. Are you in a hurry?' 'No, I've got plenty of time. I ---.'

4. I was feeling sick yesterday. I --- anything.

5. Can you speak up a bit? I --- you very well.

6. 'You look tired.' 'Yes, I --- last night,'


26.4 Complete the answers to the questions with was/were able to.

1 A: Did everybody escape from the fire?

B: Yes. Although the fire spread quickly, everybody _was able to escape._

2 A: Did you have difficulty finding Ann's house?

B: Not really. Ann had given us good directions and we ---

3. A: Did you finish your work this afternoon?

B: Yes. There was nobody to disturb me, so ---

4. A: Did the thief get away?

B: Yes. No one realised what was happening and the thief ---


26.5 Complete the sentences using could, couldn't or was/were able to.

1. My grandfather was a very clever man. He _could_ speak five languages.

2. I looked everywhere for the book but I _couldn't_ find it.

3. They didn't want to come with us at first but we _were able to_ persuade them.

4. Laura had hurt her leg and --- walk very well.

5. Sue wasn't at home when I phoned but I --- contact her at her office.

6. I looked very carefully and I --- see a figure in the distance.

7. I wanted to buy some tomatoes. The first shop I went to didn't have any but I --- get some in the next shop.

8. My grandmother loved music. She --- play the piano very well.

9. A girl fell into the river but fortunately we --- rescue her.

10. I had forgotten to bring my camera so I --- take any photographs.


UNIT 27 Could (do) and could have (done)

A. We use could in a number of ways. Sometimes could is the past of can (see Unit 26C):

* Listen. I can hear something. (now)

* I listened. I could hear something. (past)

But could is not only used in this way. We also in the future (especially to make a suggestion). For example:

* A: What shall we do this evening?

B: We could go to the cinema.

* It's a nice day. We could go for a walk.

* When you go to New York next month, you could stay with Barbara.

* A: If you need money, why don't you ask Karen?

B: Yes, I suppose I could.

Can is also possible in these sentences ('We can go for a walk,' etc.). Could is less sure than can. You must use could (not 'can') when you don't really mean what you say. For example:

* I'm so angry with him. I could kill him! (not 'I can kill him')


B. We also use could to say that something is possible now or in the future:

* The phone is ringing. It could be Tim.

* I don't know when they'll be here. They could arrive at any time.

Can is not possible in these examples (not 'It can be Tim')

In these sentences could is similar to might (see Unit 29-30):

* The phone is ringing. It might be Tim.


C. Compare could (do) and could have (done):

* I'm so tired. I could sleep for a week. (now)

* I was so tired. I could have slept for a week. (past)

Most often, we use could have (done) for things which were possible but did not happen:

* Why did you stay at a hotel when to New York? You could have stayed with Barbara. (= you had opportunity to stay with her but you didn't)

* Jack fell off a ladder yesterday but he's all right. He's lucky - he could have hurt himself badly. (but ha didn't hurt himself)

* The situation was bad but it could have been worse.


D. Sometimes could means 'would be able to...':

* We could go away if we had enough money.(= we would be able to go away)

* I don't know how you work so hard. I couldn't do it.

Could have (done) = would have been able to (do):

* Why didn't Liz apply for the job? She could have got it.

* We could have gone away if we'd had enough money.

* The trip was cancelled last week. Paul couldn't have gone anyway because he was ill. (= he wouldn't have been able to go)

* You did very well to pass the exam. I'm sure I couldn't have passed it. (= I wouldn't have been able to pass it if I had taken it)


27.1 Answer the questions with a suggestion. Use could.

1. Where shall we go for our holidays? (to Scotland) We could go to Scotland.

2. What shall we have for dinner tonight? (fish) We ---

3. What shall I give Ann for her birthday? (a book) You ---

4. When shall I phone Angela? (now) ---

5. When shall we go and see Tom? (on Friday) ---

6. Where shall we hang this picture? (in the kitchen) ---


27.2 Put in can or could. Sometimes either word is possible.

1. 'The phone is ringing. Who do you think it is?' 'It _could_ be Tim.'

2. I'm really hungry. I --- eat a horse!

3. If you're very hungry, we --- have dinner now.

4. It's so nice here. I --- stay here all day but unfortunately I have to go.

5. 'I can't find my bag. Have you seen it?' 'No, but it --- be in the car.'

6. Peter is a keen musician. He plays the flute and he --- also play the piano.

7. 'What shall we do?' 'There's a film on television. We --- watch that.'

8. The weather is nice now but it --- change later.


27.3 Complete the sentences. Use could or could have + a suitable verb.

1. A: What shall we do this evening?

B: I don't mind. We _could go_ to the cinema.

2. A: I had a very boring evening at home yesterday.

B: Why did you stay at home? You --- to the cinema.

3. A: There's an interesting job advertised in the paper. You --- for it.

B: What sort of Job is it? Show me the advertisement.

4. A: Did you go to the concert last night?

B: No. We --- but we decided not to.

5. A: Where shall we meet tomorrow?

B: Well, I --- to your house if you like.


27.4 Read this information about Ken:

Ken didn't do anything on Saturday evening.

Ken was short of money last week.

Ken doesn't know anything about machines.

Ken's car was stolen on Monday.

Ken was free on Monday afternoon.

Ken had to work on Friday evening.

Some people wanted Ken to do different things last week but they couldn't contact him. So be didn't do any of these things. You have to say whether be could have done or couldn't have done them.

1. Ken's aunt wanted him to drive her to the airport on Tuesday.

He couldn't have driven her to the airport (because his car had been stolen).

2. A friend of his wanted him to go out for a meal on Friday evening.

Ken ---

3. Another friend wanted him to play tennis on Monday afternoon.

Ken ---

4. Jack wanted Ken to lend him l50 last week. ---

5. Jane wanted Ken to come to her party on Saturday. evening.

He ---

6. Ken's mother wanted him to repair her washing machine. ---



Date: 2015-02-03; view: 478

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