Suppose that we are at home now. You are doing something. I say: "I can help you"

How should I say this sentence tomorrow? Should I say: "I could help you"

Is the latter sentence past continuous? If so, what is the past simple of "can"? And how should we recognize them?

  • If I'd say it tomorrow, I would say, "I can help you tomorrow." I don't seem to fully grasp what you mean by 'past continuous' here. Would you mind adding more background information?
    – shin
    Jul 2, 2016 at 18:46
  • 1
    Can, like all modal verbs, is defective: it has no present participle (or any other non-finite form) and therefore cannot be cast in the progressive construction. But it makes little difference; can expresses a state, not an event, and therefore has no need of a progressive. Jul 2, 2016 at 19:43

2 Answers 2


If said today about today

P1: "I need some help."
P2: "I can help you."

If said tomorrow about the day before

P1: "I needed some help yesterday."
P2: "I could/would have helped you if I had known."

If said today about tomorrow

P1: "I could use some help tomorrow."
P2: "I could help you (after lunch tomorrow)."

  • Thank you very much! I needed second situation. But isn't could past of can? How can we use it for future (I could help you tomorrow)?
    – lucas
    Jul 3, 2016 at 2:32
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    "I could help you tomorrow" = "I can help you tomorrow" both are in the future. "I could have helped you yesterday" is in the past.
    – Peter
    Jul 3, 2016 at 2:39

The verb "to be able to" is the one you're looking for.

"I was able to help you."

or, alternately

"I could have helped you."


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