Could vs Can – Request

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Both “can” and “could” are Modal Verbs. Despite this similarity, “can” speaks of present/future actions, and “could” speaks of actions that occurred in the past. Here is an example of dialogue:

Can penguins fly?

No, they cannot. 

Could they fly a long time ago? 

No, they couldn’t. 

Moreover, you may hear a native English speaker ask “Can I help you?” This is a common greeting at stores. In this sentence and sentences like it, “can” refers to the immediate future. The speaker may mean something like, “Can I help you locate an item?”. 

Using “can and could” in a request

For example: Can you get the phone? 

By saying this, the speaker is asking the listener to answer the phone. Also, “could” may be used in place of “can” informal language. 

Here is an example: Could you be so kind as to hold the door?

In the previous sentence, “could” behaves as the Verb “can”, it’s a request to open the door. 

Modal Verb “can”

Are there other forms of “can”? The simple answer is no. Whether you are speaking in the first or third person, “can” doesn’t change form. Here are a few examples:

I can cook. 

Can they play pool?  

Could” doesn’t change form either.

Examples of the Modal Verbs “can and could”

Can you sing this song at my wedding?

Could you please send an email to the marketing department about the meeting?

Let’s practice 

Q1: Try and make your own sentence.

Q2: What kind of requests do you make to your best friend? What do you request of him/her?

Q3: Give an example of the kind of request you could make to a schoolmate/colleague. 

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