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Talking about ability

How to express ability

To express that someone has the power or skill to do something, can and be able are used.


  • I can't help you.I am busy.
  • I'm unable to help you.
  • When I was young I was able to earn my living pretty well; I could work hard. Now I can't. I'm too old.
  • I can stand on my head for five minutes.
  • Can you speak Arabic?
  • Yes, I can.

Expressing ability

In the present:

Express ability in the present as follows:

  • I can speak good English.
  • I can't stand on my head.

In the past

Express ability in the past as follows

  • I was unable to visit him.
  • I couldn't eat at all when I was ill.

In the future

Express ability in the future as follows

  • I will be able to buy a house when I get a good job.
  • The teacher can assist you after class if you have any questions.

Things to remember:

  • Can is always followed by an infinitive without "to."
    I can ride my bike and I can drive a car, but I can't drive a lorry.

  • Can in the past is was able or could
    When I was young I was able to earn my living pretty well. Now I can't; I'm too old.
    I couldn't hear what he was saying.

  • Can in the future is will be able.
    When I finish my studies, I will be able to find a job.

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