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    #1

    You can do worse than ...

    Hi,

    In "You can do worse than become a lawyer" (a more common alternative is "You could do worse than"), what does the "can" mean?
    Some people say it is used to indicate possibility, but there are different types of possibility. What kind of possibility does the "can" indicate?

    I'd appreciate your help.

  2. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    I'm not sure I've ever seen it used with anything other than "could", but I would say that the "You can" version means "It is possible to" as a general statement, rather than being directed specifically at the listener. It could be worded "One can do worse than ...".
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #3

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    I'm not sure I've ever seen it used with anything other than "could", but I would say that the "You can" version means "It is possible to" as a general statement, rather than being directed specifically at the listener. It could be worded "One can do worse than ...".
    Is it correct to say "You can catch a cold if you go out without wearing a coat"?

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    #4

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    It's possible.
    Typoman - writer of rongs

  5. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    Quote Originally Posted by raymondaliasapollyon View Post
    Is it correct to say "You can catch a cold if you go out without wearing a coat"?
    Yes, but again that's just a statement of general possibility. "Anyone can catch a cold if they go out without a coat." If you're aiming that comment at someone who is about to leave the house, coatless, say "You might/could catch a cold if you go out without a coat".
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #6

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    Yes, but again that's just a statement of general possibility. "Anyone can catch a cold if they go out without a coat." If you're aiming that comment at someone who is about to leave the house, coatless, say "You might/could catch a cold if you go out without a coat".
    In affirmative sentences, "can"seems to indicate a tendency, not tied to a one-time occasion. "He can be at home now" seems an incorrect version of "He could/may/might be at home now," whereas "It can get really cold in the winter there" seems fine. Is the "can" in "You can do worse than ask John for help" an unusual word choice for this reason?
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 12-May-2020 at 10:39. Reason: Enlarged font to make post readable

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    #7

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    It's possible.
    I really suspect the "can" in "can do worse than" is a quirk of English.
    "He can do worse than marry Mary" is not a statement of general applicability. It's about a particular situation.

    But maybe the sentence is ill-formed. We need speakers who accept "can" in such sentences in principle to verify its acceptability.
    Last edited by raymondaliasapollyon; 12-May-2020 at 11:06.

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    #8

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    I would find that very unnatural. I would still expect "He could do worse than marry Mary".
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #9

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    I would find that very unnatural. I would still expect "He could do worse than marry Mary".
    We'd need to find someone who accepts the "can" in "You can do worse than become a lawyer," and then have him/her decide whether "he can do worse than marry Sarah" is acceptable. Since you don't like "You can do worse than become a lawyer," it is not suprising that you find "he can do worse than ..." unnatural.

    We want to test whether the general vs. specific difference determies the use of "can" in "can do worse than V."

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    #10

    Re: You can do worse than ...

    Quote Originally Posted by raymondaliasapollyon View Post
    Is the "can" in "You can do worse than ask John for help" an unusual word choice for this reason?
    I would say yes. I think that's the main reason.

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