1. MODALS FOR ABILITY
PAST: Was/wereable to (could)
FUTURE: Will be able to
We use these modals to talk about our ability to do things, either generally
(like speak a language) or in a specific situation (like attend a meeting, class,
We usually use the modal can to talk about our ability to do something in the
I can speak 5 languages.
My sister can play the violin.
The negative is formfor can is cannot or can’t:
I cannot speak any other languages.
My sister can’t play the piano.
When we ask a question using a modal we always putthe modal before the
Can you speak 5 languages? Yes, I can/No, I cannot
Can your sister play the violin? Yes, she can/No, she can’t
Itis also possibleto use ‘am/are/is able to’ in these situations but it is not
I am able to speak 5 languages.
(Negative: I’m not able to speak 6 languages)
(Question: Areyou able to speak 5 languages? Yes, I am/No, I’mnot)
My sister is able to play the violin.
(Negative: My sister isn’t ableto play the piano)
(Question: Is your sister able to play the violin? Yes, she is/No, she isn’t)
2. Remember we usually use the presenttense when we are talking about
meetings, classes, appointments, even when they are in the future, for
example: We have a meeting at 2pm.
This is the same for the modal:
I can attend the class tomorrow.
My manager can’t attend the meeting so we will have to start withouther.
In the past we usually usethe form was/were able to to talk about our ability
to do something in the past.
They were able to play the violin when they were younger.
My husband wasable to go on holiday with me because he quit his job.
Negatives and questions work the sameas pastverb be:
They weren’t able to play the piano when they were younger.
My husband wasn’t ableto go on holiday with me because of his work.
Were you able to play the piano when you were younger? Yes, we were/No,
Was your husband ableto go on holiday? Yes, he was/No, he wasn’t.
Itis possibleto also use the modal could INTHE NEGATIVE (could
not/couldn’t) to talk about our ability in the past:
They couldn’t play the piano when they were younger.
My husband could not go on holiday with me because of his work.
There are situations when we can use could in questions and positives
(morecommon in questions) but it is better to use was/were able to
because this form is always correct (however, this is not a set rule).
We use the form will be able to to talk about our ability in the future:
I will be able to speak English after my classes.
The negative formis either will not be able to or won’t be able to:
I won’t be able to speak Hungarian,even if I have classes for 10 years.
The question formreverses will and the subject:
Will I be able to speak English after these classes? Yes, I will/No, I won’t.