can – be able to, be allowed to

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When the auxiliary can is not grammatically possible

We often use to be able to or to be allowed to instead of can. We can only form the Past of can (could). To put can into other tenses we need the phrases to be able to or to be allowed to.

1. Affirmative sentences

Tense Modal Form
Simple Present I can play football. I am able to play football.
I am allowed to play football.
Simple Past I could play football. I was able to play football.
I was allowed to play football.
will-future not possible I will be able to play football.
I will be allowed to play football.

The modal auxiliary can is not grammatically possible in other tenses, too.

Here are some more examples:

  • Present Perfect → I have been able to play football.
  • Past Perfect → I had been able to play football.
  • going to-future → I am going to be able to play football.

2. Negative sentences

Tense Modal Form
Simple Present I cannot play football.
I am not able to play football.
I am not allowed to play football.
Simple Past I could not play football.
I was not able to play football.
I was not allowed to play football.
will-future not possible I will not be able to play football.
I will not be allowed to play football.

3. Questions

Tense Modal Form
Simple Present Can he play football? Is he able to play football?
Is he allowed to play football?
Simple Past Could he play football? Was he able to play football?
Was he allowed to play football?
will-future not possible Will he be able to play football?
Will he be allowed to play football?

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