Free reference guides to English Grammar
Practical English Usage
Grammar terms and writing
Reference Desk
English Grammar
Practical English Usage
Grammatical Terms
English Writing
English speaking
Business English

Interactive pages
Grammar and Vocabulary exercises



Talking about ability

Posted By Manjusha, Filed in English Speaking

Present ability

We use can to talk about present or general ability.

  • I can swim.
  • She can read Italian, but she canít speak it.

Past ability

We use could to talk about general ability in the past.

  • She could read when she was four.

Note that was/were able is also possible with this meaning.

  • She was able to read when she was four.

Future ability

We normally use will be able to talk about future ability.

  • I will be able to speak good French in a few months.

Unrealized past ability

We use could have + past participle to talk about unrealized past ability Ė to say that somebody was able to do something, but did not try to do it.

  • I was so angry I could have killed her.
  • I could have married anybody I wanted to.

Couldnít have + past participle means that somebody would not have been able to do something even if they had wanted or tried to.

  • I couldnít have won, so I didnít go in for the race.


More English speaking lessons
Hopes and expectations
Talking about the weather
Talking about general aches and pains
Giving opinions
Talking about general likes and dislikes
Focusing and linking ideas
Contrasting points
Showing exphasis



Get the latest updates

 Subscribe in a reader

Prefer Email?
Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner