Modal Verbs Of Ability Quiz

In this modal verbs of ability quiz you have to choose between can, could, and be able to for gaps in a number of statements.

Go to the lesson on modals of ability if you need to review them first.

For the quiz you'll need to understand the difference between general ability (things that you can always do once you have learned e.g. ride a bike, speak a language, swim) and specific ability (things specific to that moment e.g. lifting something heavy, crossing a busy road, eating more food)

Which modal to use can depend on those differences.

Modal Verbs of Ability Quiz

Can, Could, Be Able To

Instructions

Decide which of the choices for the gap are correct. Look carefully at them, as some could be referring to both present and past, depending on the context.

1. After attending a workshop, participants ________ develop new skills in problem-solving.
could
were able to
either
Correct!
Wrong!

The sentence shows a specific ability not a general one. 'Could' is not used for a specific ability in the past so we have to use 'to be able to'.

2. The flexible schedule at the new job will allow employees ________ maintain a better work-life balance.
can
to be able to
either
Correct!
Wrong!

'Can' doesn't fit grammatically as we already have a modal verb (will) plus verb (allow). The infinitive 'to be able' does fit. We can only use 'can' for the future with a time phrase e.g. 'I can come tomorrow'.

3. Dogs ________ hear frequencies that are beyond the range of human ears.
can
could
are able to
can OR could
can OR are able to
Correct!
Wrong!

'Could' isn't possible as it's the present tense for something that's always true, not the past. 'Are able to' also fits.

4. She ________ the piano really well as a child if she had had lessons.
could have played
could play
either
Correct!
Wrong!

We use could + have + past participle to express an ability in the past that was there (playing the piano) but for some reason, never got fulfilled (she never had lessons).

5. Due to his dedication, John ________ master the complex dance routine in a short period.
could
was able to
either
Correct!
Wrong!

The sentence shows a specific ability not a general one. Only 'couldn't' is for specific abilities in the past, not 'could'. 'be able to' can be used though for a specific ability.

6. The talented artist ________ capture the essence of a scene with just a few brushstrokes.
can
could
is able to
all of the above
Correct!
Wrong!

It could be any, depending on the context. If we are talking about the present, both 'can' and 'is able to' fit. However, the statement could, for example, be someone talking now about an artist from the past, in which case 'could' fits.

7. I ________ come to see you at any time you like.
can
am able to
either
Correct!
Wrong!

Either of these can be used to talk about present ability.

8. Before the advancements in medicine, doctors ________ only treat certain illnesses with limited success.
could
can
Correct!
Wrong!

It's talking about the past.

9. I ________ meet you as I had to go to hospital.
could
couldn't
either
Correct!
Wrong!

It's about something the person wasn't able to do, so it's couldn't.

10. With modern communication tools, people ________ connect with each other regardless of geographical distances.
could
are able to
either
Correct!
Wrong!

This is about what everyone is able to do with modern communication tools at the current time, so it's 'are able to', which reflects what can be done in the present. Using 'could' would imply possibility rather than ability.

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