[Modal Verb] – Lesson 2: Modal verbs to express permission

Modal verbs to express asking for, giving, and refusing permission
present or future past tense
Giving permission: can

We use can when we give someone permissionto do something:
You can bring a friend to the party if you want. 
You can borrow my phone if your battery is dead.

We also use may for permission. May is more formal and is used less often than can:
Passengers may take one small bag on board the plane. 

Permission in the past: could, was allowed to

We use could to say that something was permitted in the past:
Many years ago you could smoke in cinemas, but now it’s banned.

We can also use was/were allowed to:
We had to wear a tie at school but we were allowed to take it off in hot weather.

Saying “no” – refusing permission

We use can’t to say that something isn’t permitted:
You can’t park here – it’s private property.
He can’t drive my car; he doesn’t have insurance.

Must not / mustn’t is also used, but is more formal and is often used on signs and in announcements:
Passengers must not speak to the driver while the bus is in motion.

We use couldn’t / wasn’t allowed to to say that something was not permitted in the past:

We couldn’t cross the border without our passports.

Asking for permission 
can, could, may

We use can I? / could I / may I? to ask for permission:
Can I speak to John Wilson, please?

Could is more formal and polite than can:
Could I speak to John Wilson, please? 

May is the most formal: 
May I speak to John Wilson, please?

Questions about permission in the past 
was allowed to? / could?

Were you allowed to stay up late when you were a child?
Could you stay up late when you were a child?
Could people travel between East and West Berlin during the Cold War?


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