As you watch the video, look at the examples of can, could and would for offers, invitations, requests and permission. They are in red in the subtitles. Then read the conversation below to learn more. Finally, do the grammar exercises to check you understand, and can use, these structures correctly.
We use the modal verbs can, could and would to offer to do things for people or to invite them to do something. We also use them to make requests or ask permission to do something.
What are modal verbs?
They are a type of auxiliary verb we use with other verbs to add more meaning to the verb. After modal verbs we use the infinitive form without to.
Modals are not used with the auxiliary verb do; to form the negative, we add not after the modal. To ask questions, we put the modal in front of the subject.
Hey, you couldn't pass me that plate, could you?
Can I have a taste?
Modals do not change in the third person singular form (he/she/it) in the present simple.
Sophie can send photos.
Modals seem quite easy to use. What do we use them for?
We use them for lots of different things, and the same modal verbs can have several different uses. Today we are just going to look at offers, invitations, requests and permission.
Right, fire away! I mean, you can fire away if you like.
Oh, you’re giving me permission. Thank you. We use would + like a lot for offers. It’s very useful for different situations.
Would you like to come to our house for dinner?
Would you like some cake?
Would you like to celebrate Chinese New Year with us?
For more informal invitations you can use can + get. Get means buy in this context.
Can I get you a drink?
We also use would and can for offering to help someone.
Would you like some help?
Can I help you?
Can I give you a hand with that?
That sounds very strange, Can I give you a hand?.
It just means Can I help you?.
We also use modals for asking for something (making a request or asking permission).
Can you do me a favour? (more informal)
Could you say thanks to your mum for me? (more polite)
I’ve finished my homework. Can I go now? (more informal)
Could I speak to Amy, please? (more polite)
What’s the answer? Yes, you can. / No, you can’t.?
Not normally. Usually the positive answer is:
Yes, sure. / Yes, of course. / Certainly.
We usually avoid a direct “No” in the negative answer. We’d say something like:
Well, I’m not sure. / Tomorrow night’s a bit difficult. / Um, actually, she’s not here at the moment.
Ah, so you need to listen carefully to see if the answer is yes or no.
Absolutely. We don’t like saying no in English.
We also like to use longer structures in more formal situations:
Do you think you could do me a favour?
Would you mind closing the window, please?
Could you tell me how to get to the town centre, please?
Yes, but isn’t the pronunciation important too?
Ah, you mean the intonation? Yes, that’s very important, I’m glad you mentioned that. It can make all the difference between sounding polite and rude. It’s very important to get it right if you want a stranger to do something for you. You need to get 'up and down' movement in your voice.
Right. One more thing, do you think you could help me with my homework now? It would only take about an hour.
Um, well, actually …
Worksheets and downloads
Daisy: Wow, it's cold out there! You're home early. Are you alright?
Oliver: Never better … Hey, you couldn't pass me that plate, could you? Please? Thanks. But the heating at college broke down this morning, so when our accountancy lecturer said “Ladies and gentlemen, would you like a free afternoon to study at home?” Well, it was an offer we couldn't refuse really. It was freezing!
Daisy: Well, I see you've been busy. What is it? Can I have a taste?
Oliver: Yes, of course you can! Here. What do you think?
Daisy: Mmmm. Wow, that's really good soup, there, big brother. What is it?
Oliver: It's a country recipe. I found it in one of Gran's old cookery books. But I've made a lot. Why don't you call Amy? You can ask her round for dinner, if you like. There's more than enough. I've made bread too, look.
Daisy: You are one amazing brother!
Oliver: I know. Now go and phone.
Daisy: Amy? Oh, hi, Mrs Hao. Could I speak to Amy, please? … Thank you ... Amy? It's Daisy.
Amy: Hi! What's up?
Daisy: Would you like to come to our house for dinner?
Amy: Ah, yes, that would be really cool. Thank you. And could you say thanks to your mum for me?
Daisy: Well, actually, she isn't here. It's Oliver's idea. He's made some wonderful soup. And bread.
Amy: Nice! I could bring something for dessert, if you like. I can make an apple cake ... Pardon, Mum? Ah, thanks! It's Chinese New Year, so we've got some special sweets here. My mother says I can take some to your house, so you can try them.
Daisy: Oh yes! Chinese New Year! Mum's in Hong Kong this week, writing about the celebrations. She emailed us some photos. But I thought your family's from Cambridge ... ? Do you celebrate Chinese New Year?
Amy: Yes, of course! Three of my grandparents are from Hong Kong, in fact – though my mother's father is Scottish. My parents and I are British, but we celebrate as a family. Listen, I'd better go and make that cake, or it'll be too late.
Daisy: OK! Oh, Mum's calling. See you in an hour.
Amy: Great. See you.
Daisy: Hi, Mum!
Sophie: Hi! Listen, it's just after midnight here and it's really noisy ...
Oliver: Wow, it sounds amazing!
Sophie: It is. Plus I've recorded some great interviews and got some fantastic photos for the blog. WOW!
Daisy: You couldn't send some photos to Amy too, could you, Mum? Is that OK? Her family's from Hong Kong – I'm sure she'd love to see it.
Sophie: Yes, no problem, but don't give me her email address now, I can't hear anything very well! It's too loud!
Sophie: I'll phone you again tomorrow morning, OK?
Oliver / Daisy: OK. Love you.
Sophie: Love you too.
Oliver: She's having fun.
Daisy: Yes. I miss her.
Oliver: Me too.
Daisy: Amy? Is everything OK?
Amy: Yes, fine. My mother says would you two like to have dinner with us tomorrow? She says we can celebrate Chinese New Year together. And Dad says we can have special food – he'll make it – and we've got fireworks and ... you know ... if you like ...
Daisy: We'd love to!
Would you like to join in celebrations from a different culture to yours? Could you tell us about a typical celebration in your country?