Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Could and Can

Could vs Can

The word “can” is an auxiliary verb; it is used as a helping verb to assist the main verb of the sentence. Like all auxiliary verbs, it is used to make negative sentences and to ask questions.

Examples are these sentences:

“Shelley can do it better than she does.”
“Can you go with me to the dentist tomorrow?”
“I am very sorry but I cannot go with you.”

It is also used to indicate the ability, power, right, or privilege and the possession of a specific physical or mental skill or capability. To indicate a possibility or probability, the word “can” is also used.

Here are some examples:

“The President can grant clemency to prisoners.”
“Joanna can play several musical instruments.”
“I think I can do that as well as he can.”

It is likewise a modal verb and provides more information about the function of the main verb which can relate to a possibility, a necessity, a permission, or a likelihood. For example: “Can you please say it more slowly and clearly?”

The word “can” comes from the Old English word “cunnan” which means “have the power to” or “know” which was in turn derived from the Proto-Germanic word “kunnan” from the Proto-Indo-European base “gno” (know).

The word “could,” on the other hand, is the past tense form of the word “can.” It is also used as a subjunctive mode of “can” in requests and conditional sentences. Examples are the following:

“In the past, only men could vote.”
“Could you please pass the rice?”
“I would have helped if I could.”

The word “could” indicates the possibility or the lack of a possibility. Take this sentence for example: “The plane could arrive any minute now.” This indicates the possibility of the plane arriving. It is the conditional form of the word “can” and indicates tentativeness, deference, and the desire of not imposing. It is a more polite way of asking someone to do a favor or to do as one says.

The word “can” is more direct and indicates the ability or the lack of ability. Take a look at this example: “I can go there anytime I want.” This indicates my ability to go somewhere anytime I want. The word “always” may also be added to the words “can” and “could.” Examples are these sentences: “You could always do it the way you want. You can always do whatever you want with it.”


1.The word “can” is an auxiliary verb which is used to help the main verb in a sentence while the word “could” is the past tense of the word “can.”
2.Both have basically the same meaning and are used to ask questions and convey the right, capability, power, or possession of something; while “can” indicates ability or the lack thereof, “could” indicates a possibility or the lack of a possibility.
3.The word “can” is a more direct form while the word “could” is a conditional and more polite form of the verb.

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