May or can

Joern Matthias

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Hello folks,

I have a question about Lisa Stanfields's use of 'can' in her song 'Being around the world'. There is one sentence that confuses me:' I don't know where he can be.' What is the function of 'can' here? Should it not read 'I don't know where he may be.'?
Here is the link to her lyrics of her song: https://youtu.be/O1p7b5sWIjk

Let's assume that I am looking for my glasses and that I cannot find them at the moment of speaking and I am asking my mother ' Do you know where my glasses are?' and she gives an answer, would it be correct for her to say' I do not know where they can be.' or 'I do not know where they may be.' I know that in this case it is not about possibility in general or theoretical possibility in which 'can' can be used. If 'can' is possible here, why?


I also know that in direct questions we can use 'can'. Let's assume someone was ringing the door bell right now, I would ask ' Can this be the postman?', but what if I ask someone with me in an indirect way like ' Do you know if it can be the postman?' Would 'can' still be possible? What would be correct for me to say in this situation ' Do you think it can be the postman?' or 'Do you think it may be the postman?'

I am looking forward to your thoughts.

Greetings,

Joern
 
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GoesStation

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I think may would fit better in the song, both as a natural use of English and euphonically. However, many Americans make little distinction between may and can.

As for your examples about where to find something and who's at the door, could would be most natural for me.
 

Tarheel

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I don't think it's a good idea to learn English by listening to song lyrics.
 

GoesStation

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Yet I had a friend who learned Arabic by listening to records of Arabic folk songs. Mind you, he was one of those rare language geniuses who can pick up a language practically overnight. I'm sure he and the other Americans of his generation who were fluent in German, Japanese, and Arabic (which were only a few of the languages he'd mastered) could have fit comfortably into a very small room -- maybe a phone booth.
 
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