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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#9), by Dennis Oliver

 

Modal Verbs #9:
Individual Modal Verbs

 

The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

In this Hint, we'll look at some basic information on of the
most common modal auxiliaries, can.


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Can #1:
Ability

 

The modal auxiliary can is used in two main ways. One way
is in showing
ability.

Examples:

Larry can play piano well.

(Larry knows how to play piano well. /
Larry has the ability to play piano well.)


Joan
can solve that problem.

(Joan is able to solve that problem. /
Joan knows how to solve that problem.)


Most of Fouad's friends
can speak both Arabic and French.

(Most of Fouad's friends are able to speak both Arabic
and French. / Most of Fouad's friends know how to speak
both Arabic and French.)

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The negative of can is cannot (one word), but cannot
is generally contracted to can't in speaking.

Examples:

I'm sorry, but I can't (cannot) understand you.

Judy can't (cannot) swim very well.

Joo can't (cannot) speak Spanish, but he can understand it.


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Special Notes:

1.  

Because can and can't (cannot) are auxiliary
verbs, they are used with verbs
in simple form:

not this:

or this:

or this:

but this:

 

*He can't to understand you.

*He can't understanding you.

*He can't understands you.

He can't understand you.

     
2.   The pronunciation of can and can't is often
confusing in everyday American English speech.
Can sounds something like "kun" or "kin," and
can't sounds something like "k" (the "" is
similar to the sound of "a"
in cat, but with
very nasal pronunciation).
For this reason, can't
sometimes sounds
very much like can.


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Next: more on modal verbs
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