We use can to talk about future actions which we will be able to do because of present ability, present circumstances, present decisions etc.

She can win the race tomorrow if she tries really hard.

In other cases we prefer other structures, for example will be able to.

I'll be able to speak French at the end of this course. (NOT I can speak French ...)

Practical English Usage, Swan, p. 99.

I don't understand how the first sentence is different than the second one! I simply don't get the point. Should the second sentence be more specific, so we can use can in it? Something like,

If I keep taking French classes like I am now, I can speak French at the end of the course.

1 Answer 1


The difference appears to be the fact that she presently has the ability to win the race, but to make that potential real she has to try hard. She already is able to win. That ability is within her.

On the other hand, at the start of the course, she doesn't have the ability to speak French. It is not something already within her. In this context it shows that we think differently about learning a language (which has to be taught externally) from training for running (which develops what is already within us).

To test, try asking if "she can't win the race" or "she can't speak French" are true. If the negation is false, then you may say "can".

  • I think there's a missing pronoun in that presently has the ability
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 21:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .