How to use modal verbs for ability
We talk about ability using modal verbs in English but there is a difference between general and specific ability, so this video lesson will explain how to express ability using modal verbs in the past, present and future...
One of the most common uses in English is to express ability, but we can divide ability into general ability and specific ability. So in this video lesson, we're going to look at how we talk about ability, the difference between general and specific ability and how we express ability in the present, in the past and in the future as well. After that we'll do some practice to see how much you've learnt.
Firstly, I'll explain the difference between general ability and specific ability. General ability refers to something that you have learnt to do. Something that you can do at any time now. So imagine you've learnt how to do something and now you can do it at any time in your life. For example, cook, swim or speak a language. So, for example: "I can speak English very well". So imagine that you learnt to speak English in the past and now you feel confident that you can speak English at any time. This is general ability. Specific ability refers to something that you can or can't do at a particular point in time. So for example, you've lost something and you can't find it or you don't have the time to do something. So here's a simple example: "I can't find my keys". So this is a specific ability because at a particular point in time you can't find your keys but maybe at another time, you can. So these two examples show us how we use the modal verb 'can' to express both general ability and specific ability.
However, if we're talking about ability, general and specific, in the past, it's a little bit different. For general ability you would use 'could' or 'couldn't'. So you could say: "I could speak English when I was a child" or "I couldn't speak English when I was a child". So for specific ability in the past you can't use 'could'. You can use 'was able to' or 'couldn't'. So you would have to say in the positive: "I was able to find my keys" or "I wasn't able to find my keys" or "I couldn't find my keys".
Finally, to express general ability in the future, we use 'will' or 'won't be able'. "Next year, I will be able to speak English much better but I won't be able to understand everything". But for specific ability in the future, we use 'can' or 'can't'. "I can see you on Thursday at 9am". "I can't come on holiday with you next month".
OK, let's practise that together. So I'm going to give you a few example sentences and I want you to decide is this specific ability or general ability.
OK, so that's how we express ability, general ability and specific ability in the present, the past and the future. If you're still not sure then go back and watch the video again. It's always much easier the second time. Like the video, share it with your friends and subscribe to my YouTube channel and go to anglopod.com to take a course to improve every aspect of your English. Good luck, keep practising your English and I'll see you in the next video.