What Is The Past Tense Of Can? How To Use It Correctly?

By Benjamin Essek

What Is The Past Tense Of Can? 

The past tense of “can” as a modal verb is “could,” and it has no participle form. However, when “can” is used as a regular verb, its past tense is “canned,” and the past participle is also “canned.” 

“Can” As A Modal Verb

Modal verbs like “can,” “may,” and “will” do not have a full range of verb tenses like regular verbs. Instead, they rely on other modal verbs or contexts to convey different time frames. 

You can use the modal verb “can” to refer to present and future time. Check out the table below:

Base Form/Infinitive Form (V1) can
Past Simple Tense Form (V2) could

“Can” As A Regular Verb

As a regular verb, the V2 form of “can” is canned. The past participle of this verb is also canned. However, it doesn’t have the present participle form. You can refer to this table:

Base Form/Infinitive Form (V1) can
Present Form/3rd Person/Singular Form cans
Past Simple Tense Form (V2) canned
Past Participle Form (V3) canned

How To Pronounce “Can,” “Could,” And “Canned” Properly?

“Can” is pronounced as /kən/ or /kæn/ for strong form. “Canned” is pronounced as /kænd/, and “could is pronounced as /kəd/ or /kʊd/ for strong form. 

You can learn their pronunciations from the following table:

Verb Forms Pronunciation 
British English language American English language
can /kən/




could (V2) /kəd/




canned (V2) /kænd/ /kænd/
canned (V3) /kænd/ /kænd/

How to say can, could, and canned exactly? Check out the below videos:

How to say “can”:

How to say “could”:

How to say “canned”:

What Are The Meanings Of “Can”? How To Use Its Past Tense?

You can use “could” and “canned” as the past tense of “can” to refer to an action or event that happened and was completed before the time of speaking. Below are the contexts and all meanings of the verb “can”:

When To Use The Modal Verb “Can”?

  • To express that something is possible/ possibly happen.

Example: It could rain yesterday, but it didn’t.

  • To state that someone knows how to do something or possesses a skill.

Example: She could speak three languages when she was younger.

  • When combined with verbs like ‘feel,’ ‘hear,’ ‘see,’ ‘smell,’ or ‘taste’ to describe sensory experiences. (See the past tense of feel here)

Example: I could hear the music playing from the other room.

  • To show that someone is allowed to do something.

Example: He could stay out late when he was a teenager.

  • To request permission to do something.

Example: Could I use your phone for a moment, please?

  • To ask someone for assistance or help.

Example: Could you help me move this heavy table?

  • To make suggestions or offer ideas.

Example: We could visit the museum.

  • (As a negative form) to assert that something is not true.

Example: He couldn’t have known about the surprise party.

  • To express doubt or surprise about a situation.

Example: They couldn’t finish the project so quickly.

  • To describe habitual characteristics of someone or something.

Example: She could be really reserved in unfamiliar situations.

  • To express demand or requirement, often in frustration.

Example: You could clean your room before your friends come over.

When To Use The Regular Verb “Can”?

  • To preserve and store food in a can.

Example: They canned a lot of tomatoes last year.

  • To dismiss someone from their job.

Example: The company canned people who didn’t meet their targets last month.


Past Tense Of Can

Choose the correct answer to fill in the blank:

1 / 7

They _____ him yesterday due to continuous lateness.

2 / 7

____ you believe the incredible view from this mountain?

3 / 7

They _____ a variety of vegetables last weekend to stock up for the upcoming winter.

4 / 7

_____ I leave work a little early today? (Click here to learn the past tense of leave)

5 / 7

He _____ feel the tension in the room last night.

6 / 7

Employees ____ access the gym facilities during their everyday lunch break.

7 / 7

She _____ play the piano when she was younger.

Your score is

The average score is 85%



What If We Need To Use Past Participle Form?

When you need to express the past participle form of “can,” you use the phrase “be able to.” The modal verb “can” and “be able to” have the same meaning. So you can use “be able to” to convey the idea of ability or possibility instead of “can”.

Example: Since when has she been able to sing?

What Does “Can’t Be Doing With Somebody/Something” Mean?

The idiom “can’t be doing with somebody/something” means to dislike, lack of interest, or unwilling to accept something.


  • They can’t be doing with long meetings without breaks.
  • My grandmother can’t be doing with modern technology. She prefers things the way they used to be.