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    #1

    Smile can or may?

    Is it always clear if 'can' or 'may' is correct or is it at anybody's discretion depending on the viewpoint of ability/general potential and possibility of something happening or being true.
    If I say e. g.:

    Don't let Peter drive because he has just had 4 beers. He may/can kill other people.


    Could I use 'can' intending to convey that Peter has the ability or potential to kill people because of his beer consumption although he would not do it on purpose?


    What about this example:

    The economy in the US is in a very bad state. It can/may get out of hand.


    Could I use 'can' If I wanted to express that the US economy has the ability or general potential/quality of getting out of hand instead of stating there is a possibility that it will get out of hand. Where do you draw the line between ability and the likelihood of something happening or being true.

    Can't wait to get your answers, which I am looking forward to.

    Greetings from Bavaria

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: can or may?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joern Matthias View Post
    "Don't let Peter drive because he has just had 4 beers. He may/can kill other people."

    Could I use 'can' intending to convey that Peter has the ability or potential to kill people because of his beer consumption although he would not do it on purpose?
    In my opinion, we can only use 'can' in this way when we are talking of general tendencies - "When Peter has had four beers, he can become quite aggressive". I think that 'can' is not natural in your sentence, though 'could' is. (Incidentally, I think it would be more natural to use 'somebody' than 'other people'.)
    The economy in the US is in a very bad state. It can/may get out of hand.

    Could I use 'can' If I wanted to express that the US economy has the ability or general potential/quality of getting out of hand instead of stating there is a possibility that it will get out of hand.
    My answer is similar to the previous one. In the sentences as you have them, you are not talking about a general tendency - 'could' is possible. If you add 'when it gets like this' to your second sentence, 'can' becomes possible.
    Where do you draw the line between ability and the likelihood of something happening or being true?
    Sorry, I have been called away to an emergency.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: can or may?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joern Matthias View Post
    Is it always clear if 'can' or 'may' is correct or is it at anybody's discretion depending on the viewpoint of ability/general potential and possibility of something happening or being true.
    It's not always clear whether "can" or "may" is meant. But you can usually tell from the context.

    Could I use 'can' If I wanted to express that the US economy has the ability or general potential/quality of getting out of hand instead of stating there is a possibility that it will get out of hand.
    There's no difference between saying that something can/could happen and saying that it's possible.
    Where do you draw the line between ability and the likelihood of something happening or being true.
    I'm not sure what you mean by your last question. Do you mean how do you signify grammatically the difference between possibility and likelihood? Or how do you assess whether something is likely or merely possible?

    If there's a greater than 0 chance of something happening, it's possible. If it's greater than 50% likely to happen, it's more likely than not. So, there's an overlap. Something has to be possible for it to be likely.

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    #4

    Re: can or may?

    Hello Raymott,

    Thank you very much for your reply. Maybe I put my question in an awkward way.
    I was talking about the difference between 'ability' and 'liklihood':

    example 1:

    Don't let Peter drive because he has had 4 beers. He may/can kill people on the road.

    >Is it possible to use can here if I want to say that Peter is able to kill people on the road because
    of his beer consumption before, affecting his driving?

    example 2:

    The US economy is in a bad state. It may/can get out of hand.


    >Is it possible here to use can meaning:' The US economy is in a bad state. It is able to get out of hand.'?

    In both examples, I don't want to use 'may' meaning something is likely to happen. I just want to state that somebody or something is able to do something.

    I am looking forward to you answer

    Greetings from Germany,

    Joern

  3. Bennevis's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: can or may?

    Joern,

    I believe using "could" is the way to go here.

    Don't let Peter drive because he has just had 4 beers. He may/can kill other people.
    In this particular case, "can" is better than "may".

    The verb "may" looks good in a sentence like "In the light of the recent events, such a policy may seem efficient, but it really isn't", for instance. It's like implying the "maybe-ness" of it.

    Another example that can illustrate the difference between the two:
    He's been awesome. He may win the race. (some likelihood)
    He's been awesome. He can win the race. (strong likelihood)

    So it really depends on what you're trying to say, I guess. You've got to somehow feel it based on context. Just my two cents here.

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    #6

    Re: can or may?

    Not a teacher

    I have to agree with the two posters above (fivejedjon and Raymott).

    In your first example 'can' doesn't sound right to me. I would say 'he could kill somebody' or 'he might/may kill somebody'. After all, in German you would say 'Er koennte...' and not 'Er kann...'.

    In your second example I would write could (my preferred choice) or may. If you wanted to write 'can' you would have to extend your sentence somewhat: 'It can get out of hand if the president does not succeed in reducing income tax'.

    Host mi?

    TomUK

  4. 5jj's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: can or may?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bennevis View Post
    I believe using "could" is the way to go here.

    Don't let Peter drive because he has just had 4 beers. He may/can kill other people.
    In this particular case, "can" is better than "may".
    I don't agree, I think 'could ' or 'might' are the most likely verbs here. If we have to choose between 'can' and 'may, then 'may' is just about possible; 'can' is not.

    [...]

    Another example that can illustrate the difference between the two:
    He's been awesome. He may win the race. (some likelihood)
    He's been awesome. He can win the race. (strong likelihood) I do not agree. There may be a 'strong likelihood'; only context can tell us.
    .
    5

  5. 5jj's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: can or may?

    Quote Originally Posted by TomUK View Post
    Host mi?
    Jo

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