Difference Between Can and Could (With Table)

Words spoken or written would not make sense if there were no communicative actions, events or movement in life.Verbs are the crux of our daily life where we are constantly doing something or wanting to do something. Can and  Could are two verbs that seem the same but have a difference.

The modal verb Can and auxiliary verb Could convey an action of someone’s ability to do something. However, there is a difference in the tense, usage, context and meaning.

Can vs Could

The difference between can and could is that the word ‘can’ is used in the present context while it ‘could’ be used to request something from someone.  The word ‘could’ is often used as a past tense of the verb can. Another key difference between can and could also is that it ‘can’ is used in an informal speech while it could consider being more polite.

The verb ‘can’ conveys an ability to do something while ‘could; refer to the ability or possibility of something to happen

For example:

  1.  Can you get me a glass of water? (Informal)
  2.  Could you please get me a glass of water? (Polite)


Comparison Table Between Can and Could (in Tabular Form)

Parameters of ComparisonCanCould
MeaningAn act of being able to do somethingAn thought of the act to be do something
verbPresent ParticiplePast participle
Usage abilityPresent ability or possibilityPast ability and possibility
Grammar rulesPresentPast and Future


What is the meaning of “Can”?

Can is the most commonly used verb in Eglish language. It can is used to tell someone that you are able to do something.

Can is the very base form of a verb that one can use.

It can be used to convey an ability to do something, seek permission from someone, to make a request or express a potential possibility. The below examples are self-explanatory.

Example 1: Ability– I can write well.

Example 2: PermissionCan you play with me?

Example 3:  RequestCan you please help me to find my purse?

Example 4: Possibility- This excessive screen time can damage the eyes


What is the meaning of “Could”?

The verb ‘could’ is a form of the verb that is a past participle of the verb can.  The verb ‘could’ defines the past ability of something or someone that may have occurred.

Could also be used as a future tense as a possibility of what is likely to occur. Also could is also used when someone needs to seek or give permission or request. Stating supporting examples below;

Example 1: Ability– I could have helped you if I knew you were stranded

Example 2: PermissionCould you please call the HR and get updates?

Example 3: RequestCould you please give me a minute, please?

Example 4:  Possibility– You could have cleared the dues if you would have managed finances well

Example 5: Wish – I wish I could go for a world tour.

Main Differences Between Can and Could


The word ‘could’ is always followed by the main verb. Also, the word could, shows signs of uncertainty through suggestive words. The word can don’t use any future tense.

So, the word ‘can’ is used to state a fact, or spell out a potential ability, but in the present tense only.

The word can give out a message to the other person that someone has an art, skill or knows something.

In simpler terms, the word can dictate the potentiality of something to happen or to be achieved,

On the other side, ‘could’ is always used as a past tense of can. The verb ‘could’ is also used as a subject or a main verb.

Usage ability

Keeping the grammar rules in mind; Can is a modal verb while it could is modal as well as an auxiliary verb.

To say, can state facts while could give out a condition or rests on an event/

Example 1:

I can do this task (evident fact)

I wish I could do this task (Future event-based)

Example 2

If I didn’t catch hold of malaria, I could have thought to appear for the exam. (Condition and possibility in past)

As I feel better now, I can reconsider appearing for GRE exam again. (Ability, potential and assertive)

Grammar Rules

Grammatically both can and could are verbs that are action, potential, and ability driven.

But the context and timelines show the difference. Can word is mainly used in the present while it could is used in the upcoming future or far of the future. It can never be referred in a futurist way.

Example 1: Can– Present

Present: I can complete my assignment I an hour

Example 2: Could– Past and Future

Past: I wish I could have gone for the house warming party last Monday

Future: If I could, I will put my best to save money for the Paris trip.


The usage of the word ‘can’ is done casually and informally. While the word ‘could’ is used when one is requesting something or needs permission to do something. 

That is the reason we say, May I please come to the class and not can I please come to the class.

For example, if I say, can you just go from here vis as vis could you please just go from here? Which tone sounds better? For sure, you know the answer.  

As said earlier, the word can is more or less used in an informal way while could word is used in a formal way.



Grammatically structured sentences are the basic rules of understanding written and expressive writing and understanding how verbs are placed is of importance.

In order to summarize, the term ‘can’ is always the present tense version of a word while ‘could’ is used as a past tense version in a sentence. It also could is used when something happens in the future.

When asking someone to do something, either of the words can and could are used, but the word could is more polite and request driven.

To note is that ‘can’ is used when there is a certainty of something to happen for sure.



  1. https://grammar.cl/english/can-could.htm
  2. https://www.englishgrammar.org/uses-of-can-and-could/
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