Modals of Permission | GoProfe

When we talk about permission, we generally use these three modal verbs:

  • can

  • could

  • may

In general, can is used to talk about what someone is or isn’t allowed to do. Could is used when speaking about the past.

Here are some examples of how to use modals of permission.

Present Past
The boss said we can wear princess dresses to work tomorrow. The boss said we could wear princess dresses to work last week.
You can play loud music until 10pm. Last year you could play loud music but the neighbors complained to the police, and now loud music is forbidden.
He can borrow my running shoes if his break. I told him he could borrow my running shoes.

Remember that the negative of can is can’t or cannot, and the negative of could is couldn’t or could not.

Positive Negative
You can bring your dog to the hotel. You can’t bring your dog to the hotel.
The nuns said we could drink water from the fountain. The nuns said we couldn’t drink water from the fountain.

May is used the same way as can, but it’s generally more formal.

Informal Formal
Can I get a drink of water? May I get a drink of water?
You can come to the festival with us. You may come to the festival with us.
You can’t use this telephone. You may not use this telephone.

We can’t use may when speaking about the past. Instead, we can use could or was/were allowed to.

Present Past
You may go swimming after school. We were allowed to go swimming after school.
You may kiss the Queen’s hand. I was allowed to kiss the Queen’s hand.

 

What is a Modal verb?

How to use the modal verb should

Learn more about modal verbs with an English teacher

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