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  1. #1
    Gilbert is offline Junior Member
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    Lightbulb Don't remember/can't remember

    Is there any 'real' difference between the two? Michael Swan (Practical English Usage) doesn't think so, claiming that "with some verbs, can is often left out without changing the meaning very much" and giving a few examples:

    1) I (can) remember London during the war.
    2) She can speak/speaks Greek.
    3) I can't/don't understand.
    4) Do/can you play the piano?

    2) and 4) seem to be quite clear, we talk about an ability here (can) which can be seen as a regular activity (do/0).

    I've given 1) and 3) a thought or two and finally arrived at this: can may express an effort, thus (no matter how hard I try) "I can't understand", (my memory serves me good and) "I can remember London during the war.",

    while the alternatives would read (I was living there at the time so I can say) "I remember London during the war." and (I don't speak Russian, obviously) "I don't understand."

    This 'theory' of mine is more or less supported by a couple of examples taken from a BBC World Service Learning English article:

    Do you remember the first time we sat under the stars, listening to Beethoven's Ninth?
    Do you remember when we first ate wild mushrooms? ~ Yes, I remember.
    I can't remember where I've put the spare set of car keys. Have you seen them?

    (at least the last one works )

    Any ideas?
    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Don't remember/can't remember

    'I can remember London during the war' could be used by an older person when talking to a younger person, not to indicate difficulty or effort, but to show the distinction between their memories going back that far and the younger person's shorter span.
    Last edited by Tdol; 09-Jan-2007 at 03:37.

  3. #3
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    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: Don't remember/can't remember

    Swan's observation works at a fairly simplistic/practical level, but I think your observations and Tdol's are valid. Different words and different ways of saying 'the same thing' usually exist for a reason.

    b

  4. #4
    Gilbert is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Don't remember/can't remember

    You don't seem to make it any clearer

  5. #5
    BobK's Avatar
    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: Don't remember/can't remember

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilbert View Post
    You don't seem to make it any clearer
    All I'm saying is that rules of thumb have their limits. When people say things like 'you can drop this word without changing the meaning' they're often wrong. Your original post confirmed that.



    b

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