Student or Learner
--When can I come and fetch my photos?
--They should be ready by tomorrow noon.
My question is: Could we say 'They can be ready by tomorrow noon'?
Thank you very much.
1. They can be ready by tomorrow noon
is certainly a strong possibility, Joham.
I first viewed this as,
2. They caaan be ready by tomorrow noon
which would make it a weak epistemic 'can'.
Let me give this a mulling over. Is #1 a deontic 'can'; "I have the ability to get them to you by tomorrow noon"?
This is a fill-in question from China's university admission examination some years ago. The given answer is 'should', not 'can'. If I had taken the exam, I would have chosen 'can' at first glance. I have been puzzled for all these years about it. All the explanations that I read from China's teaching materials didn't convince me.
I've read in your posts the word 'deontic' several times. It's not in my dictionaries and I don't understand 'Is #1 a deontic 'can'?'. But I was taught "can" mustn't be used for the future if it refers to ability.
I was hoping you could help me further. Thank you so much.
Last edited by joham; 16-Mar-2008 at 06:46. Reason: words wrongly spelt
Second; deontic modal use refers to the social uses of modals [advice, prohibition,necessity, permission, etc] as opposed to epistemic modal use which refers to modals used to denote level of certainty, probability, possibility, etc. Is this clear?
A: When can I come and fetch my photos?
B: They can be ready by tomorrow noon.
'can' is used to describe ability, correct? That also extends to 'capability', as in,
We can produce that here = We have the ability/capability to produce that here.
I know that your idea of using 'can' as in the dialogue, part B, is idiomatic English, so it remains only what type of modal use it represents.
They can be ready by tomorrow noon.
It's not an epistemic use of 'can' because that would sound too tentative when B obviously means "They will be ready by tomorrow noon."
I believe that it illustrates 'can' as capability, a deontic use of modal 'can'.
"They can be ready by tomorrow noon" states,
I know that we have the capability, [the necessary staff and the machines to do the job] to have them ready by tomorrow noon.
Thank you so much for the great trouble you've taken to help me. As to 'can':
Macmillan English Dictionary:
There is no future tense of 'can', but 'will be able to' is used for saying that someone will have the ability to do something or that something will be possible in the future:
She'll be able to walk soon./ A hundred years from now people will be able to visit Mars.
ADVANCED GRAMMAR IN USE (bY Martin Hewings, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1999),UNIT 22 D:
We use will be able to, not can, to say that something will be possible in the future:
If the snow carries on like this, very few people will be able to get to the concert.
When the new road is built, I'll be able to drive to work in under half an hour.
However, when we make a decision now about something in the future, we use can:
Perhaps we can meet next week.
Hoping to get your further help. Thank you in advance.
Last edited by joham; 17-Mar-2008 at 05:35. Reason: something added.
It's me that should be thanking you, Joham and I've kicked up your "been thanked" quota. I really like it when a student says, "I don't get it" / "I don't understand your explanation" / "Hey but what about this?".
Had you just let this lapse after my first response to you, neither of us would have learned anything new. You forced me to rethink some vital issues on modal use and I thank you for that.
I'll comment on your last posting as time and brain cells allow.
In fact, it's very hard for ESLs to understand the two sentences correctly."It's possible to have them by tomorrow noon",
What do you think of it as a possibility, Joham?
'They can be ready by tomorrow noon'
Can here means is able to, which is not a speculative meaning. And this sentence states a fact, a general logic, which is not suitable when applied to a specific situation.
Natives' using of possible and possibility on such occasions often confuse ESLs.
Last edited by henz988; 16-May-2009 at 05:48.
Both 'can' and 'should' are possible. I hear one or the other every time I take my dry cleaning in:
If they are busy, she says something like, "They should be ready by noon tomorrow." - that is: judging by how much work we still have to do, it is highly probable that they will be ready tomorrow (unless I've misjudged the volume of work there still is to do.)
If they are not busy, then it's, "They can be ready by 5 o'clock today." - we are able to do these quickly for you today because we are not busy.
The customer's question was:
"When can I come and fetch my photos?" - when is it possible for me to collect my photos?
If the attendant is confident they will be finished by then, he might reply:
"They can be ready by noon tomorrow." - the implication is: you may be wanting them done as quickly as possible, and I am confident that we are able to do these photos for you by tomorrow noon.
Or he might reply:
"They should be ready by noon tomorrow." - judging by how much work there is to do, it is highly probable that they will be ready at noon tomorrow.
Since there is no context to help, and we can't know the attendant's perspective (how confident or not he is), the choice has to be 'should'.
Last edited by David L.; 16-May-2009 at 13:11.