Why is it impossible to use CAN in these sentences?

Status
Not open for further replies.

gx90t

Junior Member
Joined
Dec 26, 2007
Member Type
Student or Learner
Why is it impossible to use CAN in these sentences?

1. TO BE ABLE TO make people laugh, you need to have a special talent.

2. He HAS BEEN ABLE TO appeal to both black and white audiences.



Best regards
 

louhevly

Member
Joined
Aug 20, 2007
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
(Afan) Oromo
Home Country
Barbados
Current Location
Bahrain
Why is it impossible to use CAN in these sentences?

1. TO BE ABLE TO make people laugh, you need to have a special talent.

2. He HAS BEEN ABLE TO appeal to both black and white audiences.

Best regards


"can" isn't really a proper verb. It's a "modal auxiliar" and as such has no infinitive form, which is what is called for in your first example, nor does it have a participial form, which is what is called for in the second. You might think of "can" as a special shortcut for the present tense of "be able to": "I am able to do it = I can do it". But it won't work, for example, in the future tenses because these call for infinitive forms. "I will be able to do it" or "I am going to be able to do it" have no corresponding "can" constructions, though the use of "can" can have a future sense: "I can do it tomorrow".
 

2006

Banned
Joined
Apr 9, 2007
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
Why is it impossible to use CAN in these sentences?

1. TO BE ABLE TO make people laugh, you need to have a special talent. In this sentence you can't use "Can" because starting a sentence with 'Can make people laugh,' is just not correct English grammar.

2. He HAS BEEN ABLE TO appeal to both black and white audiences. You can use "can" in this sentence.

Best regards
2006
 

baqarah131

Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2007
Member Type
Other
Unfortunately, the extremely common and useful English verb "can" exists only in the simple present. The closest equivalent in other tenses is "be able."

He was able to escape.
He can escape.
He will be able to escape.

I don't think your sentences even need the concept of ability. You could
say:

To make people laugh, you need a special talent.
He appeals to both black and white audiences.

or, if you must:
He has managed to appeal to both black and white audiences.

In English, shorter is better. Do my versions change the meaning?

I hope you'll be able to use my input.
edward

Why is it impossible to use CAN in these sentences?

1. TO BE ABLE TO make people laugh, you need to have a special talent.

2. He HAS BEEN ABLE TO appeal to both black and white audiences.

Unfortunately, the extremely common and useful English verb "can" exists only in the simple present. The closest equivalent in other tenses is "be able."

He was able to escape.
He can escape.
He will be able to escape.

I don't think your sentences even need the concept of ability. You could
say:

To make people laugh, you need a special talent.
He appeals to both black and white audiences.

or, if you must:
He has managed to appeal to both black and white audiences.

In English, shorter is better. Do my versions change the meaning?

I hope you'll be able to use my input.
edward
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
Why is it impossible to use CAN in this sentence?


2. He HAS BEEN ABLE TO appeal to both black and white audiences.

You can use "can" in this sentence.

But not without changing the meaning, right, 2006?
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
Unfortunately, the extremely common and useful English verb "can" exists only in the simple present.

'can' doesn't have any tense, Edward. It's like all the other modal verbs in modern day English, ie. they are tenseless. 'can' can operate in all time situations, past, present and future.
 

baqarah131

Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2007
Member Type
Other
Horse feathers! It's easy to use can in present, but can you use it in the past?

I say neigh.
edward

'can' doesn't have any tense, Edward. It's like all the other modal verbs in modern day English, ie. they are tenseless. 'can' can operate in all time situations, past, present and future.
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
Horse feathers! It's easy to use can in present, but can you use it in the past?

I say neigh.
edward

Yup, I cannnnnnnnn. As close as I can come to a 'can neigh'.

No no no no no. He can't have died!!

A: There's no way. He can't have been at the party.

B: Oh, he sure can have been.
 

baqarah131

Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2007
Member Type
Other
I enjoy a good argument and was feeling quite smug until a few minutes ago.

He can't have died. I don't think "can" is past there. It is impossible that he has died.
It's your B that troubles me--unless the meaning is "It is my current belief that it's impossible he was at the party."
Even I can't swallow that.
I reject your C: It's just not idiomatic English.

Dunno. I think using "can" outside the present requires some nifty verbal gymnastics, but your B is hard to dismiss.

regards & thanks for this
edward

Yup, I cannnnnnnnn. As close as I can come to a 'can neigh'.

No no no no no. He can't have died!!

A: There's no way. He can't have been at the party.

B: Oh, he sure can have been.
 

louhevly

Member
Joined
Aug 20, 2007
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
(Afan) Oromo
Home Country
Barbados
Current Location
Bahrain
I enjoy a good argument and was feeling quite smug until a few minutes ago.

He can't have died. I don't think "can" is past there. It is impossible that he has died.
It's your B that troubles me--unless the meaning is "It is my current belief that it's impossible he was at the party."
Even I can't swallow that.
I reject your C: It's just not idiomatic English.

Dunno. I think using "can" outside the present requires some nifty verbal gymnastics, but your B is hard to dismiss.

I don't think this is an example of "can" used with a past meaning because:

Oh, he sure can have been = Oh, it certainly *is* possible that he has been.

In riverkid's example, "can" speaks of the present possibility that a past action has ocurred. Or, if you don't agree, show me a sentence in which "can" = "it *was* possible" or "it *has been* possible".

"can" of course can be used with a future meaning:
I can pay you tomorrow = (more or less) I will be able to pay you tomorrow
 

2006

Banned
Joined
Apr 9, 2007
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
Why is it impossible to use CAN in this sentence?


2. He HAS BEEN ABLE TO appeal to both black and white audiences.



But not without changing the meaning, right, 2006?
Yes, the meaning changes because the time changes, and maybe he is no longer able to appeal to...'.
I took the question to be one of grammar.
 

2006

Banned
Joined
Apr 9, 2007
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
Yup, I cannnnnnnnn. As close as I can come to a 'can neigh'.

No no no no no. He can't have died!!

A: There's no way. He can't have been at the party.

B: Oh, he sure can have been.
I would use "could" in the previous 3 sentences. (could, verbal auxillary, past of can)
 

mykwyner

Key Member
Joined
May 13, 2005
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Here in the dialect of America's deep south we have a very useful double modal that covers that exact situation very neatly: used to could.

When I first heard people say something like, "I used to could ride a motorcycle before I hurt my back," I thought they were ignorant. Then I thought about how exact and economical this phrase is and wondered why the rest of the English-speaking world didn't pick up on it.
 

2006

Banned
Joined
Apr 9, 2007
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
Here in the dialect of America's deep south we have a very useful double modal that covers that exact situation very neatly: used to could.

When I first heard people say something like, "I used to could ride a motorcycle before I hurt my back," I thought they were ignorant. Then I thought about how exact and economical this phrase is and wondered why the rest of the English-speaking world didn't pick up on it.
I don't think the meaning of "used to could" is exact, and I think one has to choose between "used to" and "could".
I am guessing that "used to could" means 'could', in which case adding "used to" would serve no purpose.

'I could ride a motor cycle before I hurt my back.' (but I can't ride one now)
"I used to ride a motorcycle before I hurt my back. (maybe I still can but I don't ride anymore)
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
I enjoy a good argument and was feeling quite smug until a few minutes ago.

He can't have died. I don't think "can" is past there. It is impossible that he has died.

No, 'can' definitely isn't past, Edward, as modals have no tense. The situation is past and 'can' merely carries modal meaning into the sentence. The pastness of the situation is covered by "has + died".

It's your B that troubles me--unless the meaning is "It is my current belief that it's impossible he was at the party."
Even I can't swallow that.

A: There's no way. He can't have been at the party.

B: Oh, he sure can have been.


I reject your C: It's just not idiomatic English.

Did I do a C?

Dunno. I think using "can" outside the present requires some nifty verbal gymnastics, but your B is hard to dismiss.

regards & thanks for this
edward

It's not overly common in comparison to other modal uses, Edward because it's a statement of strong disbelief, and often 'could' is used to state the same meaning. But note that to state this same meaning, the purported past tense 'could' still needs a 'have + PP'. If 'could' really was a past tense, it should be able to handle this all by its lonesome.

'can & could' are the most confusing of the modals because they share identical meanings.

Try to make a sentence using the other modal pairs, for example, may/might.

Make a sentence, just one sentence, that uses 'might' as the past tense of 'may'.
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
I don't think the meaning of "used to could" is exact, and I think one has to choose between "used to" and "could".
I am guessing that "used to could" means 'could', in which case adding "used to" would serve no purpose.

You can't possibly know how exact the meaning is because this is not part of your dialect of English, 2006. It serves the purpose of those who speak that particular dialect.

We have at east one of our own set of double modals that is in common use;

You shouldn't oughta do that/shouldn't oughta've done that.
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
I don't think this is an example of "can" used with a past meaning because:

Oh, he sure can have been = Oh, it certainly *is* possible that he has been.

That's an interesting thought, Lou. It is "Lou", isn't it? What would a switch to 'could' do to the meaning you suggest.

Oh, he sure could have been there = Oh, it certainly {___??___} possible that ...


In riverkid's example, "can" speaks of the present possibility that a past action has ocurred. Or, if you don't agree, show me a sentence in which "can" = "it *was* possible" or "it *has been* possible".

Let's take this one step at a time, Lou.

#
 

2006

Banned
Joined
Apr 9, 2007
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
You can't possibly know how exact the meaning is because this is not part of your dialect of English, 2006. It serves the purpose of those who speak that particular dialect.

We have at east one of our own set of double modals that is in common use;

You shouldn't oughta do that/shouldn't oughta've done that.
Of course "oughta" is quite useless there and one should just say 'You (shouldn't do)(shouldn't've done) that.'
Or are you suggesting that the meanings would change? I assume not.
2006
 

riverkid

Banned
Joined
Aug 17, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
Of course "oughta" is quite useless there and one should just say 'You (shouldn't do)(shouldn't've done) that.'
Or are you suggesting that the meanings would change? I assume not.

2006

There are many ways to say things that have the same meanings or intent, 2006, but language is full of nuance and we shift words around to create these different nuances.
 

2006

Banned
Joined
Apr 9, 2007
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
There are many ways to say things that have the same meanings or intent, 2006, but language is full of nuance and we shift words around to create these different nuances.
I think the only nuance is letting people know that one speaks bad English, specifically using useless words in unconventional combinations.
That's all I will have to say about this.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top