Speaking about Abilities
Can - Be Allowed to
'Can' is used to ask for and give permission. In the simplest sense, we use 'can' to request something. However, at other times 'can' expresses permission to do something specific. 'May' is also used in a more formal sense. In American English, 'May I ...' is considered the correct formal form to ask for permission.
'To be allowed to' can also be used to ask for and give permission. This form is more formal and is commonly used for rules and regulations.
Examples of Asking Permission
Can I use the commercial equipment without training?
Are we able to estimate the withholding tax or does the figure need to be exact?
Can - To Be Able To
'Can' is commonly used to express the ability to do something. This usage is similar to the form 'to be able to do something'. Both these forms are acceptable, although 'can' is more commonly used.
We can write off that accrued liability.
We are able to adjust our lending rates.
To Be Able To - Future and Perfect Forms
There is no future or perfect form of 'can'. Use 'to be able to' in all future and perfect tenses.
We will be able to attend the shareholders' meeting.
The issuing bank will not be able to activate the card until tomorrow.
Special Case of the Past Positive
Use 'was / were able to' when speaking about a specific event in the past in the positive form. Both 'can' and 'to be able to' are used in the past negative to speak about specific events.
The interest payments were able to be lowered by my local branch.
He was able to complete the requirement without involving human resources.
'Could' and 'was / were able to' are also used to express a general ability in the past in the positive and negative forms.
John was able to tackle bank clearance problems when he was the manager.
The bank could issue a voting share report when it was still a savings and loan.
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