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  1. #11
    NAL123 is online now Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by GoesStation View Post
    You could say "Robbing a bank can get you into trouble". The definite article calls for could.
    I think "Your robbing a bank can get you/someone else into trouble" or "Your robbing banks can get you/someone else into trouble" is the most general type of "possibility" sentence, because they mean:

    Anyone's robbing any bankat any time can get them/anyone else into trouble.

    Now we can make a more specific statement of it just by making definite any one or more than one of the four variables (underlined). For example:

    a) John's robbing any bank at any time can get Sam into trouble. (This often happens with John and Sam)

    b) John's robbing any bank at any time can get him into trouble. (This only happens with John)

    c) Anyone's robbing the bank at any time can get them/anyone else into trouble. (This often happens with the bank, or rather with anyone who has robbed the bank)

    And so on.

    The sentence:

    d) Robbing the bank can get you into a lot of trouble.

    can mean:

    John's robbing the bank at any time can get him into trouble.(This often happens with John and the bank)

    But if we make the time definite, it would then be a completely "specific" sentence, and we wouldn't be able to use "can" any more. Instead, we'd have to use "will" or "could", depending on the context.

    1) John's robbing the bank tomorrow could get him into trouble. (The speaker thinks that John's an expert robber or that the bank does not have tight security or both)

    2) John's robbing the bank tomorrow will get him into trouble. (The speaker thinks that John's not an expert robber or that the bank does have tight security or both)

    3) John's robbing the bank tomorrow might get him into trouble. (This sentence speculates on sentence (2))
    Last edited by NAL123; 27-Apr-2021 at 09:27.

  2. #12
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    I see the distinction that you're trying to make between can for general/specific possibility, but I don't think it's really there. I suggest you stick with the picture of can = general and could = specific. Remember that even when you talk about one specific person as opposed to people in general, you can still make generalisations about that specific person.

    1) Robbing banks can get people into trouble.
    2) Robbing banks can get him into trouble.
    3) Robbing the bank could get you into trouble.

    Sentences 1 and 2 are both generalisations. 3 isn't, as long as it's talking about a specific event of bank-robbing.

  3. #13
    NAL123 is online now Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I see the distinction that you're trying to make between can for general/specific possibility, but I don't think it's really there. I suggest you stick with the picture of can = general and could = specific. Remember that even when you talk about one specific person as opposed to people in general, you can still make generalisations about that specific person.

    1) Robbing banks can get people into trouble.
    2) Robbing banks can get him into trouble.
    3) Robbing the bank could get you into trouble.

    Sentences 1 and 2 are both generalisations. 3 isn't, as long as it's talking about a specific event of bank-robbing.
    Your (2) is actually my (b) in post 11. Even sentence (d) in that post is a generalisation, in my opinion.

  4. #14
    NAL123 is online now Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    One last question here:

    As you said, the sentence below refers to a specific event in the future:

    1) Be careful, John! Robbing the bank tomorrow could get you into trouble. (John is planning to rob the bank tomorrow)

    Here the subject/object both refer to John.

    Can I say the above sentence for people in general?

    2) (People's) Robbing the bank tomorrow could get people into trouble. (The speaker believes this for some reason, maybe the bank security will be a bit more tight/loose tomorrow)

    Here the subject/object both refer to people in general.

  5. #15
    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    The short answer is yes.

    When I've used the word 'specific' in this post to talk about possibility, I really mean it in the sense that the event is specific rather than any person or place involved. That means that in the speaker's mind there is imagined to be a one-off event taking place at a single point in space/time. This is in contrast to generalisations, which are not about specific one-off events at specific points in space/time.

    Now usually, if an event is specific, it does invariably also mean that the person and place and everything else is also meant specifically. However, your example shows a case where the speaker is talking generally about people but specifically about an event. You could even take it one step further and make a sentence that is talking generally about people and generally about banks, but specifically about an event:

    Robbing banks tomorrow could get people in trouble.

    It's only the use of the modal could in conjunction with the future time marker tomorrow that gives us a clear idea that the speaker is thinking about a specific event.

    Does that make sense?

  6. #16
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by NAL123 View Post
    Can I say the above sentence for people in general?
    You did mean to say the below sentence, right?

  7. #17
    NAL123 is online now Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post

    Does that make sense?
    That makes perfect sense! Thank you very much for your help! And, yes, I meant "below".

  8. #18
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    The short answer is yes.

    When I've used the word 'specific' in this post to talk about possibility, I really mean it in the sense that the event is specific rather than any person or place involved. That means that in the speaker's mind there is imagined to be a one-off event taking place at a single point in space/time. This is in contrast to generalisations, which are not about specific one-off events at specific points in space/time.
    Sorry for bothering you again. I was revisiting this thread and I thought I needed a little clarification on what a general/specific event is. I hope you don't mind.

    As you described, a specific event is a one-off event taking place at a single point in space/time. So can I call each of the following a general event, for which "can" is appropriate?

    a) An event that has happened only once, and there's a good chance that it will/may happen again, (implying the event is not one-off, and hence general):

    Case (1): assuming place is fixed, but not time:

    In the past, John has attempted to rob the bank five times. He was successful four times and got into trouble once: Robbing the bank can get John/people into trouble.

    Case (2): assuming time is fixed, but not place:

    In the past, John has attempted to rob multiple banks five times, all at 3pm. He was successful four times and got into trouble once: Robbing banks at 3pm can get John/people into trouble.

    Case (3): assuming both time and place are fixed: Robbing the bank at 3pm can get John/people into trouble.

    Case (4): assuming neither is fixed: Robbing banks can get John/people into trouble.

    b) An event that has happened more than once, and there's a good chance that it will/may happen again, (implying the event is not one-off, and hence general): the same as above.

    c) An event that has not happened yet, but that may happen in the future:

    Now do you call such an event a general event, and use "can" for it? For example, are these sentences correct with "can"?

    1) Robbing banks can get John into trouble. (John has never tried to rob a bank before, but he may do so in the future; this is not a specific event as described by you, because here the event may be one-off, but it's neither fixed in time or place)

    2) Robbing the bank can get John into trouble. (John has never tried to rob that bank before, but he may do so in the future; this is not a specific event as described by you, because the speaker thinks it may happen more than once)

    3) Robbing banks at 3pm can get John into trouble. (John has never tried to rob a bank at 3pm before, but he may do so in the future; this is not a specific event as described by you, because the speaker thinks it may happen more than once)

    4) Robbing banks/the bank (at 3pm) can get you/one/people into trouble. (No one has ever tried to rob a bank/the bank before, but they may do so in the future)

  9. #19
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    I think you may be overcomplicating matters, and I think you may have misunderstood the language I was using. I think I should try to clarify.

    Look at the first sentence of this motorway sign:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The verb kill signifies an action. The sentence is a generalisation in that it isn't about any one specific event. It's essentially a statement of statistical probability where all past events of ever driving when tired are correlated to all of those events that have ever resulted in death. It's not in any way 'about' any one of those events. And although pragmatically it is in reference to a specific possible future event (i.e. the reader's particular death, which its purpose is to prevent), it's still essentially a generalisation based only on evidence of past events, because all generalisations of this kind are inductions from observations.

    I wouldn't use the phrase 'general event' at all because an event is by my definition something that either happens, or is imagined to happen, at one particular location in space/time. That's what I mean by a 'one-off' specific event, in contrast to a generalisation of multiple events.

    Does that help at all?

  10. #20
    NAL123 is online now Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I think you may be overcomplicating matters, and I think you may have misunderstood the language I was using. I think I should try to clarify.

    The verb kill signifies an action. The sentence is a generalisation in that it isn't about any one specific event. It's essentially a statement of statistical probability where all past events of ever driving when tired are correlated to all of those events that have ever resulted in death. It's not in any way 'about' any one of those events. And although pragmatically it is in reference to a specific possible future event (i.e. the reader's particular death, which its purpose is to prevent), it's still essentially a generalisation based only on evidence of past events, because all generalisations of this kind are inductions from observations.
    I completely understand what you're trying to explain here. And I think that's exactly how we understand the same thing in our native language, too. As you said, generalisations are inductions from past observations. But what if we try to generalize from a single observation in the past? Would that be a valid generalization? In my last post, I tried to generalize from a single observation when I said, " an event that has happened only once, and there's a good chance that it will/may happen again", and then I went on to discuss a case under it, where I said,

    "
    In the past, John has attempted to rob the bank five times. He was successful four times and got into trouble once: Robbing the bank can get John into trouble."

    Here the speaker takes into account five different occurrences of bank-robbing by John, of which one was unsuccessful. Then based on this single unsuccessful occurrence, he makes the general observation: Robbing the bank can get John into trouble.

    But I also mentioned a point (b), where I said, "an event that has happened more than once, and there's a good chance that it will/may happen again."

    Here the speaker generalizes from more than one unsuccessful occurrences. It's basically the same generalization as above, but based on multiple events.

    Now, lets discuss something I'm still confused about.

    So far we've talked about generalizations. Now, suppose the speaker is completely unaware of John/one/people having robbed the bank/banks in the past. Thus, no past observations imply no induction, which implies no generalization.

    Q): Now if there is no generalization, can we use "can" in the following sentences? If so, what does using "can" mean in those sentences? Do they all refer to the future?

    1) Robbing the bank can get John/people into trouble.

    2) Robbing a bank/banks can get John/people into trouble.
    Last edited by NAL123; 02-May-2021 at 16:31.

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