they should (can?) be ready by tomorrow noon

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joham

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--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.
 

riverkid

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--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.

First, just dealing with this on a meaning level; with a meaning, paraphrased as,

"It's possible to have them by tomorrow noon",

what do you think of it as a possibility, Joham?
 

joham

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First, just dealing with this on a meaning level; with a meaning, paraphrased as,

"It's possible to have them by tomorrow noon",

what do you think of it as a possibility, Joham?

The answer to your question is 'should', Riverkid. But how about if the second speaker wants to make a promise/ decision for the near future?
 

riverkid

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The answer to your question is 'should', Riverkid. But how about if the second speaker wants to make a promise/ decision for the near future?

Hmmmmmmmm, a nice smooth, evenly intonated,

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"?
 

joham

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Hmmmmmmmm, a nice smooth, evenly intonated,

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"?

Dear Riverkid,
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.
 
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riverkid

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Dear Riverkid,
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.

Me neither, so far, Joham. :)




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.

First; could you expand on "But I was taught "can" mustn't be used for the future if it refers to ability" and provide some examples that illustrate this, Joham?

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?

Third;

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.
 

joham

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Dear Riverkid,
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.
 
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riverkid

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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. :)
 

henz988

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"It's possible to have them by tomorrow noon",

What do you think of it as a possibility, Joham?

In fact, it's very hard for ESLs to understand the two sentences correctly.

'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.:)
 
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David L.

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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'.
 
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henz988

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Thank you, David L.

I have some other questions, though they maybe somewhat off-topic.

First, let's look at this link:

ENGLISH PAGE - Can

can possibility, impossibility

Anyone can become rich and famous if they know the right people.
Learning a language can be a real challenge.

This use is usually a generalization or a supposition.

------------------

It can't cost more than a dollar or two.
You can't be 45! I thought you were about 18 years old.

This use is usually a generalization or a supposition.


And then my question1:

I notice in the link, on such an occasion, whether in positive or negative sentences, it seems can should be used in a way of "usually a generalization or a supposition." Is it so?
I must have heard somewhere this rule is out of date and useless.:roll:


and my question2:

It usually takes me 3 hours to finish this kind of things, so ______.
A. they should be ready in three and a half hours.
B. they can be ready in three and a half hours.
C. they will have been ready in three and a half hours.
D. they may have been ready in three and a half hours.

Are the four choices (A, B, C and D) all correct?

A: I think it is obviously correct. But could you please provide me with some other modals that are acceptable as alternatives? What about must, could, may, etc.?
B. If the rule were dated, then B would be correct. I need confirmation here.
C. Correct. Future perfect tense.
D. I notice both will and may are modals, if C is correct, then D should also be reasonable, shouldn't it?


Many thanks again in advance.
 
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jctgf

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is "They might be ready by tomorrow noon." another possibility?
is this case it amounts to "it's probable (but not certain) that it will be ready by...", doesn't it?
thanks.
 

David L.

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jctgf: your question is a little easier :)

So - the context is:
Me: "When can I come and fetch my photos?"
Attendant: "They might be ready by noon tomorrow."


I would consider this an odd reply to my specific question, and think, "Doesn't this bloke know what is going on around this place that he can't be more definite than that?" It's almost as if he saying to me, I don't really know - that's up to the technician and whether he gets round to doing them, but it's possible they will be ready noon tomorrow. Certainly, the attendant is distancing himself and taking no part in the decision/knowing more definitely when they will be ready.

However, we could change the dialogue a little and 'might' would be appropriate.
Me: "When can I come and fetch my photos?"
Attendant: "They should be ready by noon tomorrow."
Me: "Oh. I was hoping to have them for a presentation about 11 tomorrow."
Attendant: "The might be ready by then. Do you want to give me a call about 10.45?"

Lots of photos will be processed tomorrow morning. My photos are not going to pop out of the machine at 11.59 a.m. ready for me at 12 noon. By telling me "noon tomorrow" the attendant is more able to guarantee they will be ready by then; but they will most likely to be done before then. But how much sooner than noon? Now, the attendant can't be so sure, and so says, 'well, it's possible - they might be ready before 11 a.m. but I can't really be sure.' The use of 'might' is now appropriate: 'should be' = probably will be / 'might be' = it's possible but I'm really not sure.
 
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David L.

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henz988 : I've printed out the information on the site you referred to, and your questions, and have given some thought to what you are asking.

Your questions cannot be answered (by me) with yes or no answers. I know that many learners of a language like to have 'rules' - "if it's a supposition, then use xyz". If only the modals were that easy!
If that is your preferred learning style, please tell me; because what I would prefer to do is discuss the questions you pose in a way that I hope will give you a deeper understanding of the modals. But I need to know that you are prepared to take this approach, slowly and patiently, working with me, because it is a very difficult area.

It is not lightly that the authoritative grammarians consider "the modals are a mess"; and because the modals deal with the hypothetical - and so, what is and isn't 'probably' and 'possible' - and each of us has our own subjective estimation of what is and isn't the degree of probablity/possibility in any situation....opinions in this forum will also vary widely!

Let me know.

As for your first question: this is the problem when language is taught/learnt as 'rules'. The statement, "Anyone can become rich and famous if they know the right people" is a generalization. You ask, is it so that 'can' should be used in a way of "usually a generalization or a supposition." I'm not sure what you mean there.

My thoughts are that that approach will not help you. Rather, the question, "What does 'can' mean that we automatically do use 'can' to express a generalization. Why not, "Anyone could become..." instead?"

What I mean by that is (in trying to re-orientate your thinking), rather than the question, "When I want to make a generalized statement, do I use 'can'" - rather, what is the meaning of 'can' that I use it to express my opinion, "Anyone can become..." ...oh, a statement that just happens to be termed 'a generalization'.
 
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henz988

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Thank you for your time and patience, David L.:)

For an ESL student, even most ESLs, the difficulty he/they may face lies not only in the language itself, but also some other aspects.
This is a generalization, and I can safely use CAN:
An ESL student can meet difficulty while studying.

However, when it comes to a specific event, we are taught that CAN cannot be used (I mean the epistemic meaning here):
John is going to learn lesson 6. (I guess) He can meet three difficult language points.

The underlined part is considered to be a rule for us ESLs. As for this latter example, I think there isn't much deontic meaning here. In this case, is the modal verb can used correctly here? And, is the rule I mentioned above still working in current English?


Thanks!
 
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David L.

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Ah! Gotcha.
So - one happens to be a generalization - and the use of 'can' appropriate; and the other just happens to be a specific reference, so why? - or what is it about the meaning of 'can' that it isn't appropriate in the second?

Let me think through how to put this across to you (while I'm out grocery shopping).
While I'm doing that, consider these sentences:
Your sentence: John can meet three difficult language points.
John can deal with the three difficult language points in Lesson 6.
John can come. He's OK about being bartender while I serve the food.
John can be tiresome.


Back soon.
 
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