Talking about Abilities

When you want to socialize with strangers, you can talk about your abilities. What does it mean? Should we use our abilities or talk about them? Learn more.

"Talking about Abilities" in English

What Is Ability?

The ability refers to all the powers and skills you have to do something. When we talk about our abilities we are actually talking about things that we are able to do.

Ways to Express Abilities

There are different ways to express your abilities. They may seem typical to you and you may use all these words regularly. Follow the list to get to know them.

  1. Can
  2. Could
  3. Be able to

Using 'Can' (Present)

'Can' is a modal verb that indicates one's ability. We have to use the infinitive without to after modals and 'can' follows the exact rule. Look at the examples.

She can drive a car.

He can swim in the pool.

Using 'Could' (Past)

'Could' is the past tense of can. It is a modal verb as well. And it stands the same for all the pronouns and subjects. We use the term could to talk about the abilities that we used to have in a past period of time. They may still exist while we do not try doing them again or they may be gone for good.

I could stand on my hands when I was young.

They could drink five bottles of wine without actually feeling anything.

using 'could' to talk about past abilities

Using 'Be Able to' (Present and Past)

This expression is used to talk about the abilities. As there is (to be verb) in the structure of this expression you can easily use (am, is, are) in the present tense and (was, were) in the past tense.

She is able to give speech to thousands of people.

Lidia was able to play guitar, before the accident.

Using 'Could Have' (Past)

'Could have' is used to indicate someone had the ability to do something, but they did not do it. The structure of this grammar is (could have + past participle). Check out the examples for more clarification.

I believe she could have won the fight.

Hanna could have sung way better.

Using 'Can' (Future)

We use the modal verb can to refer to things that we are going to be able to do in the future. Here are the examples.

They can cook in big restaurants if they win this game.

Peter can easily cheat on tomorrow's exam.

Using 'Be Able to' (Future)

You can use the modal verb 'will' before be able to to talk about abilities you will have in the future.

We will be able to finish the project by the deadline.

Harry will be able to walk again.

Using 'Be Unable to' (Future and Past)

'To be unable to do' something means that we cannot do the particular thing. In other words, despite having an affirmative structure this expression means negative, and we cannot use double negative with it.

She was unable to talk after the earthquake.

The rabbit is unable to jump.


Here are the negative forms for all these words and expressions.

  • Cannot → can't
  • Could not → couldn't
  • Could not have → couldn't have
  • Was/were/am/is/are not able to → isn't/aren't able to
  • Will not be able to → won't be able to


To talk about the abilities we have, we can use the modals can and could. On the other hand, we can also use the verb phrase to be able to. Here are the functions of these verbs based on possible tenses, they are used in.

present past future
Be able to


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