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  1. #1
    NAL123 is offline Member
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    It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    https://dictionary.cambridge.org/gra...n-could-or-may has to say this about "can":

    1) "Can" expresses what the speaker believes is a general truth or known fact, or a strong possibility:

    a) It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    2) "Could" in the present only expresses weak possibility. "Can" expresses strong possibility:

    b) I can travel in July because my exams will definitely be finished at the beginning of that month. (strong possibility)

    3) We don’t normally use "could" to talk about general truths which refer to the present time. We use "can" instead:

    c) Not everyone can afford to buy organic food.

    4) We use "could", not "can", to express future possibility. "Can" expresses that we are certain of something:

    d) Working in London next summer could be a great experience.

    I'm really confused about the "general truth or known fact" meaning and "strong possibility" meaning of "can". In (1a), the dictionary says, "can" suggests both of these meanings, while in (2b), "can" only suggests "strong possibility" meaning, and in (4d), we cannot use "can" because it would suggest we are certain of something.

    Could you please explain with examples when to use "can" properly with the "strong possibility" meaning?

  2. #2
    Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
    Charlie Bernstein is offline VIP Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Actually, I think Cambridge explains it very well there. As you can see, the words are used differently to talk about past, present, and future. I can't imagine how confusing that must be, but that's English!

    Okay, here are some examples of using can to show strong possibility:

    - Lightning can strike anywhere.
    - Robbing banks can get you into a lot of trouble.
    - Reading the newspaper every day can keep you informed.
    - Riding a bicycle can be fun.
    I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Actually, I think Cambridge explains it very well there. As you can see, the words are used differently to talk about past, present, and future. I can't imagine how confusing that must be, but that's English!

    Okay, here are some examples of using can to show strong possibility:

    - Lightning can strike anywhere.
    - Robbing banks can get you into a lot of trouble.
    - Reading the newspaper every day can keep you informed.
    - Riding a bicycle can be fun.
    Basically the reason for the confusion is sentences (2b) and (4d). Both of them refer to the future. Now if "can" expresses "strong possibility", and sounds good in sentence (2b), why can't we use it in sentence (4d)?

  4. #4
    jutfrank's Avatar
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by NAL123 View Post
    I'm really confused about the "general truth or known fact" meaning and "strong possibility" meaning of "can". In (1a), the dictionary says, "can" suggests both of these meanings
    No, not really. There aren't two different meanings there. The dictionary is just giving you different ways to understand the same basic thing. There is a way in which you can understand all uses of modal verbs as being in some extrinsic way about possibility.

    while in (2b), "can" only suggests "strong possibility" meaning
    I don't think it's a good idea to try to understand this use in terms of possibility.

    and in (4d), we cannot use "can" because it would suggest we are certain of something.
    I don't think that's a very clear, or very good, explanation.

    Could you please explain with examples when to use "can" properly with the "strong possibility" meaning?
    See post #2 for some good examples.

    I'm not surprised this dictionary entry has you confused. As a general rule, dictionaries are not the best sources to refer to for help understand the intricacies of modal verbs. Besides, I'm sure we've discussed this use of can for 'strong possibility' before in at least one of your former threads. For reference, it's what I would have called 'general possibility'.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by NAL123 View Post
    Basically the reason for the confusion is sentences (2b) and (4d). Both of them refer to the future. Now if "can" expresses "strong possibility", and sounds good in sentence (2b), why can't we use it in sentence (4d)?
    These are really quite different in use and meaning. It isn't going to help you by thinking of them in terms of the strength of possibility, and it isn't going to help you by trying to compare them.

    4d is about a specific event in the future. You can't use can because that would sound like a general possibility. Look at Charlie Bernstein's examples in post #2: Each sentence is meant as a generalisation. They're not about any particular person, and they don't relate to any particular point in time. This is what I mean when I say 'general possibility'.

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    NAL123 is offline Member
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Besides, I'm sure we've discussed this use of can for 'strong possibility' before in at least one of your former threads. For reference, it's what I would have called 'general possibility'.
    Actually no. This is the first time we're discussing this topic. In my earlier threads, we have talked about "could", "might", "would", "can vs could vs might vs may", "will vs would" etc.

    Anyway, this is my understanding now:

    1) Case (1): When "can" implies "general ability/possibility", (here "ability" implies "possibility", assuming I have the "permission"= I'm able to do implies it is possible for me to do):

    a) You can get to the city center on the Number 4 bus. (= Anyone, at any time, is able to get to the city center on the Number 4 bus)

    b) I can swim. (= At any time, I am able to swim; but I don't know about others)


    Case (2): When "can" implies "specific ability/possibility", (here "ability" implies "possibility"= I'm able to do implies it is possible for me to do):

    c) John, you/your brother can get to the city center on the Number 4 bus. (John or his brother is looking for some form of public transport to get to the city center, and the speaker's letting them know that they can do this)

    d) Don't worry mom! I can get to the city center on the Number 4 bus.

    Sentences (c) and (d) depend on sentence (a). If anyone can get to the city center at any time, then in a specific context, I/we/you/he/they can get to the city center.

    e) I can swim across this river. (because sentence (b) says I can swim)


    2) Case (3): When "can" implies "general permissibility/possibility", (here "permissibility" implies "possibility", assuming I have the "ability"= I'm allowed to do implies it is possible for me to do)

    f) You can travel to most places if you are fully vaccinated. (= Anyone, at any time, is allowed to travel to most places if they are fully vaccinated)


    Case (4)
    : When "can" implies "specific permissibility/possibility", (here "permissibility" implies "possibility", assuming I have the "ability"= I'm allowed to do implies it is possible for me to do)

    g) John, you/your brother can travel to most places if you/he is fully vaccinated. (John/his brother is going on vacation)

    h) Thank God the lockdown is over! Now
    I can travel to most places if I'm fully vaccinated. (the speaker is planning to go on vacation)

    Sentences (g) and (h) depend on sentence (f).


    3) Case (5): When "can" implies "general possibility", (neither "ability" nor "permissibility" is implied, ONLY it is possible for me to do):

    i) Robbing banks can get you into a lot of trouble. (= it is possible for robbing any bank at any time to get anyone into a lot of trouble)


    Case (6)
    : When "can" implies "specific possibility", (neither "ability" nor "permissibility" is implied, ONLY it is possible for me to do):

    j) Be careful, John! Robbing the bank can get you into a lot of trouble. (John is going to rob a bank)

    "Can" is usually avoided in sentences like (j), and is usually replaced with "will". Note, however, that you CANNOT replace the "can" with "will" in an "ability/permissibility" sentence.


    Q: IS MY UNDERSTANDING CORRECT?

  7. #7
    Tarheel's Avatar
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    NAL123, I wouldn't use "implies" the way you did.

    Also, that post is overloaded and should have been pared (edited).
    Not a professional teacher

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

    It looks okay to me, yes. It's very close to my own way of understanding things. Good.

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    GoesStation is online now Moderator
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    Re: It can be dangerous to cycle in the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by NAL123 View Post
    j) Be careful, John! Robbing the bank can could get you into a lot of trouble.
    You could say "Robbing a bank can get you into trouble". The definite article calls for could.
    I am not a teacher.

  10. #10
    jutfrank's Avatar
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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.
    Right. That shows well the distinction between general (can) and specific (could). I seemed to have missed that one. Well spotted.

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