Can you start a sentence with can?

Yes, it is correct to start a sentence with can when forming a question but it is not correct at the beginning of a statement. The rule is if the subject comes after can it is a question and if before it is a statement. 

Sentence StructureExample
Verb Can + Subject = QuestionCan he speak English?
Subject + Verb Can = StatementHe can speak English.

An alternative way around this is to substitute can with the imperative form be able to which creates a statement and not a question. This will have the exact same meaning and you can start a sentence with be able to.


“Can you leave at 6 o’clock?” You are asking them if they have the ability to leave at 6 o’clock.

“Be able to leave at 6 o’clock.” You are telling them to be able to leave at 6 o’clock.

start a question with can example

Some auxiliary and modal verbs such as do and have which can be used to start a sentence and a question:

  • Do you have the time?
  • Do your homework.
  • Have you got time to talk?
  • Have a nice day.

But can needs a subject before it to be a correct sentence:

  • I can swim.
  • John can come for dinner.

If you swap the subject and the verb can it becomes a question:

  • Can I swim?
  • Can John come for dinner?

In conclusion, you can’t start a sentence with can but you can start a question with can. If you must, substitute can with be able to to keep the same meaning.

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