Learn English grammar about ability using can, could and other phrases with the games, activities and exercises on this page. This is perfect for pre-intermediate or intermediate English students. You can get started with these three useful ability English grammar exercises.

Past ability English grammar

Most people think talking about ability in the past tense is easy. Just use could, right? That’s not exactly true. There are other phrases for the past of can that are better suited depending on the type of ability you are describing.

Describing ability in the past tense – grammar exercise

Do you know the English grammar about how to describe abilities in the past tense? In the present tense we use the word ‘can.’ Remember, ability means the power or skill to do something. Depending on the type of ability though, we have to change our term. The three terms you can use are: could, was/were able to, and managed to. If an ability is general, you can use any of the three forms. If you the ability is specific, you should use was/were able to or managed to.

Past simple of ‘can’ – Fill in the blanks grammar exercise

Can you use the correct form of the past tense English grammar to complete these sentences? Remember to use different forms including to be able to and manage to.

What was Usain Bolt able to do? – English listening exercise

Watch this interactive video and answer the questions using the correct form of the past tense to describe a sports superstar’s abilities.

Review: forms of can in the past and future

Present tense to describe ability: can

Past tense of can: could, was able to, were able to, managed to

Past tense of can’t: could not, was not able to, were not able to, did not manage to

Past participle of can: been able to, managed to

Future tense of can: will be able to, will manage to

Do you know how to use the different forms of the past of can? Past ability grammar doesn’t have to be difficult. It all comes down to the type of skill or achievement you are describing. What you describe can be as simple as getting a dinner reservation or broad as speaking German. Comment below with your questions or suggestions for other English grammar exercises.