Suppose, I am doing a work. I am having the ability to do the work. Can we say:

I can be doing the work.

Is the structure can+be+present participle correct?

Again, suppose, I have done a work. Can we say:

I can have done the work.

Is the structure Can+have+past participle correct?

Though we use the structures 'may+be+present participle', 'may+have+past participle' in many cases.

Please let me know with explanation.

3 Answers 3


Generally, you only use present continuous to describe a situation where one thing happens while another is in progress, for example:

I was washing the dishes when the parcel arrived.

washing the dishes is a continuous activity, and the arrival of the parcel is something that happened while the continuous activity is in progress.

can is used to express a capability- normally something that is always true, like being able to write. We use present simple to talk about things that are always true:

I can write

In your first sentence, if you are expressing the idea that you are capable of doing the work, regardless of when it will be done, that is something that's always true, so you use present simple:

I can do the work.

You might consider using present continuous if you want to talk about doing the work while something else happens. Say two people are going on a business trip. One might say to the other:

I can be doing the work while you drive.

This version focuses on the doing of the work. If you instead focus on the ability to do the work, then you would still use present simple, because it's always true:

I can do the work while you drive.

Looking at your second sentence, we normally use present perfect to talk about something has been completed before now, and has a lasting effect to present.

I have finished the work - I finished the work some time ago: the work is now finished

You can use "can have" if you are talking about the ability to have complete something before some specified time in the future:

I can have done the work by the time we arrive.

may is different, since it is used to specify probability rather than capability:

He may be stuck in a traffic jam - probability about situation now
He may be waiting in the lobby - probability about situation now
He may be going to Paris next week - probability about a future activity
He may have been delayed - probability about something that happened in the past, with an effect that lasts to present.


No, the structure can+be+present participle is not idiomatic.

The preferred structure to indicate capability is can+present tense, as in:

I can do the work.

For instance, my mother might say: "Can you go get me some milk from the store?"

The correct response would be "I can get you the milk," not "I can be getting you the milk."

In your question, you say "I am having the ability to do the work." Again, the present participle doesn't sound quite right here. A more idiomatic expression would be "I have the ability to do the work."

  • What about the sentence 'I can have done the work'?. I have done the work. Can't I say I can have done the work? Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 3:51

Yes it seems fine to say it can be doing. It can be forgiven is an idiom. That idiom's present continuous tense version is occasionally used with a subject in the third person singular use of a verb. For example, a name of a computer program is "Savvy PC". "Savvy PC" can be forgiving of typographical mistakes. In another example, some people can be forgiving of one's shortfalls. This question is an interesting one. Multi-tasking is impossible. So I can be doing only one thing at a time. Yet that makes for a reasonable sentence.

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