Can & Could – The Machine

Can & Could If you are not sure about how to use can or could, there are lots of examples in this short story that can help you.


    1. Read and listen to the story to see and hear lots of uses of can & could. The different meanings are explained at the end.
    2. Can you guess what the story is about from the title?
      The Professor opened his front door and said, “Are you the journalist from the newspaper?” to the young man waiting outside. “Yes, that’s right. We spoke on the phone. Nice to meet you Profeesor Yaffel.” “Yes, come in. Come in. Can I take your bag and coat?” “Well, first let me get my camera and dictaphone out so I can record our interview.” Professor Yaffel stared at the reporter while he got his things ready. “So, is it true that you’ve invented a new machine, Professor?” “Yes. It’s incredible. It could change the world. This machine can make food from anything,” said the Professor as he pulled back a curtain that revealed the huge invention. Wow! How does it work?” asked the reporter. “Well, the easiest way to explain is with a demonstration. Could you pass me that old book from over there?” “What, this one?” “Yes, yes. Come along, come along. Now what’s your favourite food?” asked the Professor. “Erm. Well, sausages and mash, I suppose,” said the reporter.
    3. Can you guess what will happen next?
      “Right. Watch this.” The Professor opened the large door of the machine, stepped inside and put the book on the floor in the middle of his invention. Then he jumped back out, slammed the door shut and typed “SAUSAGES AND MASH” on a computer. The reporter could hear a strange noise coming from the machine and then silence. “Ready!” shouted the Professor, as he opened a smaller door in the side of the machine and took out a large plate of steaming hot sausages and mash. “Oh my God,” whispered the reporter. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It can’t be true!” “Isn’t it fantastic? I can make any food you want! Curry from an old cornflakes box, beer from bath water, bananas from old newspapers. With this machine we could feed everybody in the whole world. Nobody will ever be hungry again!” “That’s incredible, Professor. This is the biggest story ever. My newspaper is definitely going to want some photos. Could I take some? Our readers are going to want to know what your machine looks like.” “Of course. Go right ahead”
    4. Can you guess how the story ends?
      The Professor opened the big door again and the reporter started taking lots of pictures. “You can probably get some good shots from inside, as well,” said the Professor. The reporter walked inside the machine and the Professor slowly clicked the door behind him. “Now, I haven’t got time for a big lunch,” the Professor said. “I think I’ll just have a small sandwich.” As he was typing the words, “BACON SANDWICH” into the computer, he thought, “Hmmm…who could I invite for lunch tomorrow?”

    MEANINGS OF CAN & COULD (from the story)

    1. “Can I take your bag and coat?” (Can here is an offer) … so I can record our interview (Can here means ‘so that I am able to’) It could change the world! (Could here means ‘it is possible that in the future’) Could you pass me that old book…? (Could here is a request) The reporter could hear a strange noise (Could here is the past of can, meaning ‘was able to’) It can’t be true! (Can’t here means ‘it is not possible’) I can make any food you want (Can here means ‘I am able to’) …we could feed everybody in the whole world. (Could here means ‘we will be able to’ or ‘it is possible for us to’) Could I take some photos? (Could here means “Do I have your permission to”) “You can probably get some good shots from inside” (Can here means “It is possible for you to”)

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