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  1. 1 English In A Minute

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Welcome to English In A Minute. Give us a minute and we'll give you a hot tip about English. Grammar, vocabulary... there's so much to learn! And all taught by your favourite BBC Learning English staff!

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Three uses of can

Do you have a minute to spare to learn some English? Can James tell us 3 uses of can? Of course he can! Give us 60 seconds and we'll give you the English!

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James
Welcome back to English In A Minute. I'm James and today we're going to talk about a word with lots of different uses: can.

I can play the guitar. This is the first way that we can use can – to talk about ability. For example: I can speak Spanish, but I can't fly.

Let's look at another use of can. Can I open the window, Elly?

Elly
No, you can't! It's too cold!

James
Oh, OK! In this example, can is used to ask for or give permission to do something. Can I go for lunch, Elly?

Elly
Yes, of course you can, James!

James
Oh, thank you! 

Learning a language can be difficult. In this final example, can is used to talk about possibility. Elly take a jacket. It can get cold at night!

Elly
OK! Thanks, James!

James
This means that sometimes it is cold, but sometimes it isn't. So there we have it. Can can be used for ability, permission and possibility. Now you, can use can too. See you next time!

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Can

Modal verb
Can
is a modal verb. This means it doesn't change its form regardless of time or subject pronoun. It is always followed by a bare infinitive verb. 

  • I can go.
  • You can't go.
  • Can he go?
  • She can go.
  • It can't go.
  • We can go.
  • They can't go.

Ability
Can is often used to talk about an ability or something we are or aren't able to do. 

  • I can speak Spanish but I can't fly.
  • I don't think I can afford that much money.
  • He can't admit how he feels. But he loves you.

Permission
Can is also frequently used to ask or give permission to do something - or say that something is forbidden.

  • Can I go for lunch?
  • You can't smoke here, I'm afraid.
  • Tell her she can leave as soon as she's finished.

Possibility
Can is also use to say that something is possible or impossible.

  • It can get cold at night.
  • They can't be 60! They look so young.
  • Give John space when he gets home. He can be a bit grumpy after work.

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