CAN and COULD

Discussion in 'English Only' started by well-to-do, Jan 19, 2013.

  1. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    hi dear teachers!:)

    Could you please help me understand the difference in the meaning of the following sentences( one using "could" and the other using "can" ).

    Here are the sentences;

    (i). I COULD be happy if everything happened as I have planned.
    (ii). I CAN be happy if everything happens as I have planned.

    What do 'COULD' and 'CAN' convey in the above examples ? Can I use/say CAN in place of COULD(in the first example) and COULD in place of CAN (in our second example) without there's a change in the meaning ?
    Thanks
     
  2. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    The difference is the usual one between 1st and 2nd conditional. (i) is deemed to be far less probable or likely - the speaker does not seem to believe everything will happen as planned. (ii) is the normal 1st conditional that suggests there is a 50/50 chance of things happening as planned.

    I think you can use 'could' in (ii). The suggestion would, to me, be that even though there are good chances of things going according to plan, you might still not be happy.
     
  3. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Thank you sir, for replying:)
    So you mean to say that "COULD" expresses less certainty/ surety (than can). Should we use 'COULD' (and not can)
    when the possibility of something happening is less, we are less sure/ certain that something will happen ?
    Thanks to you once again.
     
  4. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    The answer to your questions, thus asked, is 'yes' as far as I am concerned.

    (At the age of 63, my father is a 'sir'. I am still too young and unworthy of this 'title' :D Thanks for being polite, though :) )
     
  5. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hi, well.

    (i). I COULD be happy if everything happened as I have planned.
    (ii). I CAN be happy if everything happens as I have planned.

    I feel that (ii) has very little to do with the sense of prediction that is present in (i).
    I think I would express (ii) by saying simply:

    "I am happy if everything happens as I have planned." (speaking, in general, of my character, attitude, etc.)

    or

    "I will be happy if everything happens as I have planned."
    (speaking of a well identified event in the future)

    GS
     
  6. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Yes, Giorgio. That, in its turn, is the difference between zero and 1st conditional. :)
     
  7. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Thank you both of you:)
    I think NOW you two have cleared my doubts about those two sentences.
    And being polite to our seniors or elders is an essential part of our culture (Indian culture), sir.
    I'm really very happy be learning form you people.
    Thanks to both of you once again:)
     
  8. Wildcat1 Senior Member

    Amer. English
    Hi well-to-do.

    Both sentences, but especially (ii), sound strange to me (grammatical, but strange). Do you really want to use the verb can/could in these sentences? "would" in the first sentence and "will" in the second is what I would expect, although with those words you lose the sense of "can" ("be able").
     
  9. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Hello dear sir/ madam,
    And thanks for putting your own views in this thread:) But isn't COULD and CAN expressing possibility or chances of something here ? Since, one of the meanings of "can" and "could" is to express a possibility or probability, I have used can and could for that; COULD(something is less possible/ the chances of something happening are less) and CAN (something is certain or the chances of something happening are higher).

    can't we rewrite our first Sentence "(1)" as, "I might be happy if everything happened as I have planned" and our second sentence "(2)" as, "I will probably be (bigger possibility / chances of me being happy are higher ) happy if everything happens as I have planned" ?

    Could you please help me, sir, with when I can use COULD and CAN to talk about a possibility. Also, is there any difference between "can" and "could" when we use them to express a possibility ?
    Thank you sir/ madam.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2013
  10. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    The way I see it, well-to-do, the notion of "possibility or chances of something" in sentence #1 is already expressed by the preterite of the verb happen — i.e. happened. That's why the subject's reaction to this favourable development of events would be — naturally — a reaction of happiness. And that's why, in my opinion, the most appropriate way to express the apodosis would be " I would be happy...".

    GS


     
  11. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Hi sir, and thanks a lot again:)
    Those were my own sentences, my own imagination. I just wanted to see if "could" and "can" were possible that way.
    And I think I have got the answer now (after seeing wildcat's and your posts).
    But I have one more question here and it, too, is about can and could.
    How about the following sentences ? What do 'could' and 'can' convey in the following sentences ?
    Here are the sentences;

    (1). "I could go to the party if she invited me" vs "I can go to the party if she invites me"

    (2). "I could go to the party tonight" vs "I can go to the party tonight".

    (3). "It could rain tomorrow if what they said would be true" vs "It can rain tomorrow if what they said would be true"

    (4). "It could rain tomorrow" vs "It can rain tomorrow" .

    I think I'm still not clear about them (can and could) when they are used to express the idea of possibility or that something is likely to happen.:(

    Thank you teachers!
     
  12. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    (1) Like I said - you don't believe she will invite you; in the 2nd sentence your chances of being invited are 50/50.
    (2) I could go - you are not quite sure you'll go; I can go - it just says your option is open or you have the ability to go
    (3) Those sentences are somewhat strange and I would not say them myself, I would probably say 'If what they say is true, it will rain tomorrow'
    (4) It could rain - not very likely, but rain can be expected; It can rain - :confused: something like 'the weather is capable of giving us rain tomorrow'. I would definitely use 'may' and 'might' here.
     
  13. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Thank you very much sir and I'm grateful to you and the others who have help me in this thread:)
    and I really wish to learn much more form you as well as other members here.
    Thanks.
     
  14. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    (4). "It could rain tomorrow" vs "It can rain tomorrow" .

    It could rain tomorrow = There is a possibility that it will rain tomorrow.
    It can rain tomorrow = I give the heavens permission to rain, it won't bother me!
     
  15. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Hi again dear teachers!:)
    I came across this sentence while reading a book today, and I was thinking what possible meanings this sentence may give. The sentence was;

    "He COULD HAVE BEEN the one who stole the money form his dad's pocket" .

    Here's what I think, but I don't know if I'm right.
    "He COULD HAVE BEEN . . . . " [meaning (1) = it is possible that he was the one who stole . . . , but we don't know it for sure ].

    [meaning(2) = it was possible for him to steal the money . . . , but he didn't do that].

    In the meaning(1), the action actually happened, the speaker thinks; while, in the meaning(2), the thing / the action didn't actually happen, it was possible, though.

    Dear teachers, is my interpretation correct, about that sentence ?

    Thanks.
     
  16. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    It would be extremely odd to say He could have been the one who stole the money, if no money has been stolen.

    I think it would have to be your meaning 1., WTD.
     
  17. well-to-do New Member

    Hindi
    Thank you sir TT,

    How about this one;
    "He COULD HAVE LENT her the money" [meaning 1: but he didn't . . . . .]

    "He COULD HAVE LENT her the money" [ meaning 2: It is possible or the speaker thinks that 'he lent her the money]

    Am I right about the meanings (1) and (2) ?
    thanks.
     
  18. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    If this is speech the two meanings could be conveyed by tone of voice. Emphasis on "could" would mean "could but didn't". The sentence could have several meanings, depending which word is emphasised. Your meanings 1 and 2 are both possible.
     
  19. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, well.

    Yes, you are, but this is an area of English grammar where ambiguity may arise. I'll try to express the way I see it.

    By means of "He COULD HAVE LENT her the money" the speaker is saying that it would have been possible for him to do it — he was in a position to do it (because he'd got a lot of money, say), but we listeners don't — and neither does the speaker — know whether he actually gave the money or not.

    On the other hand, by means of the same sentence the speaker might be saying that "perhaps he did lend her the money, but s/he can't tell for sure whether he really did it or not, or s/he can't remember whether he did it or not.

    To obviate the problem of ambiguity, I usually recommend to say/write:

    1. "He COULD have lent her the money"

    and

    2. He MIGHT have lent her the money

    respectively.

    Regards.

    GS
     
  20. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi Velisarius,

    Could you please explain how it could be meaning 2. I'm not so much sceptical as unimaginative. I feel the need for a few examples.
     
  21. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    I don't know if this is a good explanation, but when I place the logical stress is on the word 'could', in speech, then she might be in receipt of the money. When the logical stress is on 'lent', then she did not get the money. I am not sure I am making sense but when I hear those said, I will likely understand immediately what is meant. :(
     
  22. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    Hello Mr.T.T.

    I think many people (most people?) don't distinguish in speech between "could have" and "might have".

    I was thinking of something along the lines of "Who on earth could have lent her all that money to buy her house?- "He could have lent her the money; he can afford it." The speaker thinks it's possible or probable that someone lent the money.

    "He couldn't have lent her the money"- "Oh yes he could have lent her the money, quite easily". Again the speaker believes it's possible.
     
  23. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Yes, thank you. I agree. He didn't steal the money but he could have - he was able to.

    I agree with you that we'd probably find another way of avoiding ambiguity there - he would have been able to, for instance.
     

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