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  1. #1
    ana2005 is offline Junior Member
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    Unhappy Modal verbs are driving me crazy! Help!!!

    The question is:
    To ask for and give permission, we use can. So far, so good.
    But what about asking for and giving permission in the past?. I mean, if I am asked to paraphrase a sentence like:
    "The authorities didn't let him get out of the country", should I use:
    a) He couldn't get out of the country? or
    b) He wasn't allowed to get out of the country?

    The first one sounds a bit "weak" to me, but I cannot think of a reason why I shouldn't use it. Are there any?

    Thank you very much, English teachers.

  2. #2
    Steven D's Avatar
    Steven D is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Modal verbs are driving me crazy! Help!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by ana2005
    The question is:
    To ask for and give permission, we use can. So far, so good.
    But what about asking for and giving permission in the past?. I mean, if I am asked to paraphrase a sentence like:
    "The authorities didn't let him get out of the country", should I use:
    a) He couldn't get out of the country? or
    b) He wasn't allowed to get out of the country?

    The first one sounds a bit "weak" to me, but I cannot think of a reason why I shouldn't use it. Are there any?

    Thank you very much, English teachers.
    He could not get out of the country because he was not allowed. The second sentence, b, tells why he couldn't get out of the country. Someone would not allow him to get out of the country. It could've been for another reason. In this case, it's because he wasn't allowed.

    Sentence a is a result of sentence b.

    If they don't allow him to leave, he can't leave.

    They didn't allow him to leave. Therefore, he couldn't leave. [He could've left if they had allowed him to leave.]

    Here, "could" refers to past time. However, "could" doesn't always refer to past time. Sometimes it refers to the present and the future.

    _____________________________________________

    I would use sentence b to paraphrase the original sentence. The first sentence is really a result of the original sentence. Of course, one might infer that if one is true the other is true within a given context. If you say one, you might be saying the other. It depends on the context and what the listener understands in the first place.

    Did your teacher ask you to paraphrase this?
    Last edited by Steven D; 20-Nov-2005 at 20:38.

  3. #3
    rhapsomatrics is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Modal verbs are driving me crazy! Help!!!

    I think in English Language,especially the spoken aspect, a lot of things are implied and presumed.In fact,it is these implications and presumptions that pose the greatest threat to formal writing of English.The verb "can",in my opinion,shows ability or potency to do while can't is simply its negative counterpart.If we say "he couldn't come out" we are obviously saying that he was unable,lacked the ability or potency to do so.However,what we are not sure of is the naturality of the said inability.Is he naturally unable to come out(probably owing of an injury) or he was barred or precluded from doing so?
    ....I cannot drive....I lack the ability to do so...."I could not drive"...I lacked the ability to do so.To conclude,I think it is way easier when speaking than in writing...if I said "I couldn't go out of my room" for example,it would mean that someway my movement from the room was either impossible or abortive.However,I think that such laxity should not be condoned when writing formally.If the "inability has an "unnatural agent" it should be disclosed.
    I couldn't go out(natural incapacitation eg illness,injuryetc...
    I wasn't allowed to go out(unnatural impediment..eg parents,the police etc....)

  4. #4
    ana2005 is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Modal verbs are driving me crazy! Help!!!

    Thanks a lot, X Mode and Rhapsomatrics

    Yes, the sentence is taken from one of the entry exams for university (...is that the right way to call them?). One of the exercises included is paraphrasing and the beginning of the second sentence was only "He..." . I understand from your replies that the first possibility (He couldn't...) is not absolutely wrong, but the second one(He wasn't allowed ...) is definitely better because it conveys the meaning more accurately.

    Thanks again. It's a pleasure to have an expert willing to clarify any points just a click away.

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