7 Major Differences Between Could and Can You Should Know

Filed in Articles by on April 25, 2021

Differences Between Could and Can: ‘Can’ is the present tense version of the word and ‘could’ is the past tense version of the word.

‘Can’ and ‘Could’ are followed by a base form of the verb. Both these verbs indicate ability in some respect. The use of ‘could’ is usual in clauses that contain a reference to past time.

‘Could’ actually portray something that’s not possible now, however, will be conceivable if certain conditions are met, while ‘can’ depicts something that is conceivable at this moment, under the present conditions.

‘Could’ is also used when a condition must be fulfilled in order for the thing to happen. ‘Can‘ is used in the present situation, whereas we can use ‘could‘ for talking about a past ability.


Can’ simply means to be able or permitted to do something. It is used with the first form or the base form of the verb. Basically, it determines the ability or capability of someone or something, but as a modal verb, it has several uses.

To define ability:

I can write you a song.

My mum can speak Yoruba fluently.

I can get you the money.

I can prepare your daughter for the exam.

Joseph can hack the systems.

To give and seek permission:

Can I have your number?

Can you come to the house at 2 pm?

You can go on the trip.

You can take the black bag along with you

To make a request:

I will appreciate it if you can get me a new phone.

Can you get me a bottle of vodka, please?

To express some possibility:

Studying the algorithm can increase your chances.

You can get the monsoon details from the meteorological department.


Could is the past participle form of the verb ‘can‘ which determines the past ability of someone or something. It is also used when someone is permitted to do something.

It’s also used to describe something that was possible but did not happen, used with the verb have (“We could have won if we had practiced harder.”). ‘Could’ can also express annoyance or another strong emotion.

To denote that someone has the ability to do something:

You could use the backdoor in case of an emergency.

I could help you if I know you are in trouble.

To seek permission, especially a polite one:

Could I request a sandwich?

Could I go and meet them?

To make a request:

Could you write your name, please?

To give a suggestion or advice:

You could go to the fourth roll; it’s the last book there.

In imaginary situation or wishes:

I wish I could meet Aladdin

To express a slight possibility:

You could have passed the examination.

Notable Distinctions Between Could and Can

1. Can’ is the present tense version of the word and ‘could’ is the past tense version of the word.

2. ‘Can’ is pronounced as kan, kən. ‘Could’ is pronounced as kəd, kʊd.

3. ‘Can’ and ‘could’ are both modal verbs.

4. ‘Could’ is the past participle or second form of the verb, which is used with the main verb to talk about past the ability of an individual in doing something.

5. While ‘can’ discusses the probability of an occasion in the current circumstance, ‘could’ is used to communicate a slight possibility or the possibility before.

6. Both can and could are used to ask for permission and also request something, can is the more informal one, which is used when we are talking to our friends, relatives, or acquaintances.

7. ‘Could’ is more appropriate to use when talking to strangers, although both are appropriate for requesting.

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CSN Team.

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