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Difference between Could and Can

Difference between Could and Can

The words “could” and “can” are often confused. They have different meanings, and using them incorrectly can change the entire tone of your message. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the difference between these two words, and explain when it’s appropriate to use each one. We’ll also provide some tips for improving your writing skills. Let’s get started!

What is Could?

Could is a modal verb used to express possibility or past ability as well as to make suggestions and requests. Could is also often used in conditional sentences as the conditional form of can.

  • For example, “I could swim when I was five” or “If you heat up the car, it could be fixed by lunchtime.” Could is the past tense of can. Could is used to express ability in the past, but cannot be used for present or future ability. Also, Could has no infinitive form. Could is almost always followed by a main verb.
  • The main verb is often in the base form, but could also be in the -ing form or infinitive form. When the main verb is in the -ing form, it suggests that the possibility is continuous or repeated. And when Could is followed by an infinitive, it often expresses a request.
  • For example: “Could you please turn off the light?” Could can also be used as an adjective meaning “able to be recovered” or “possible to be done”. This usually refers to ideas or plans rather than physical things.
  • For example: “All our could-haves and should-haves amounted to nothing.” Could can also function as a noun meaning “chance” or “possibility”. For example: “There’s a could of winning if we play our cards right.”
  • Could can also be used informally to express annoyance or disbelief. For example: “Could you not just for once?” When used this way, Could often has a similar meaning to Can’t.

What is Can?

Can is one of the most versatile words in English. It can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.

  • When used as a noun, Can refers to a metal container, usually with a lid, in which food or drink is stored. Can also be used to refer to the contents of such a container, especially if it is food or drink that has been canned.
  • As a verb, Can means to be able to do something. For example, I can swim across the pool. Can also be used to ask for permission to do something. For example, Can I borrow your pencil? As an adjective Can describe something that is able to be done or accomplished.
  • For example, This project is quite challenging but it’s not impossible. Finally, as an adverb Can is used to express ability or possibility. For example, You can get there by bus or by train. Can is truly a versatile word!

Difference between Could and Can

Could and Can are both auxiliary verbs, which means they help to form questions and negatives, and can be used to express ability or possibility. Could is the past tense of the can, but it can also be used to talk about the present and future ability, as well as to express a polite request. For example:
I could go for a walk. (Present ability)
He could have been a great doctor if he’d stuck with it. (Past ability)
Could you please turn off the light? (Polite request)
Similarly, can is used to express present or future ability, but it can’t be used to talk about past ability. For example:
They can speak four languages between them. (Present ability)
I’ll be able to help you after I’ve finished my essay. (Future ability)
To sum up, Could is the past tense of the can, but it has other functions too. Can is only used to talk about present or future ability. Could express ability, possibility, or a polite request, while Can expresses ability or possibility. Could is used more in formal situations than Can.


Could and can are often confused because they have similar meanings. However, there is a subtle difference between the two words that can have an impact on your writing. Could is used to describe a possible action in the future, while can refers to an ability that someone has right now. For example, you could go for a walk tomorrow, but you cannot go for a walk today. When using these words in your writing, be sure to use them correctly so that your meaning is clear.

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