Can / may

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by ThomasK, Dec 15, 2012.

  1. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    How do you translate this :
    - he can do it (capacity)
    - she may (might) do it (possibility)
    - he can do it (permission)

    Do you use the same verb, and a personal verb?

    In Dutch we don't:
    - kunnen - hij kan
    - kunnen - zij kan
    (though we do not often use the AUX here, it seems to me)
    - mogen - zij mag
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2012
  2. Perseas Senior Member

    Athens - GR
    Greek
    In Greek:

    All three meanings could be rendered with μπορώ: (αυτός) μπορεί να το κάνει.

    However each meaning can be expressed in different ways:
    -είναι ικανός/ή να το κάνει (capacity) --> he/she is capable of doing it
    -ίσως να το κάνει (possibility) --- > perhaps/maybe he/she does it
    -επιτρέπεται να το κάνει (permission) ---> he/she has the permission to do it
     
  3. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I suppose 'mporo' is kind of a modal verb, whereas the others are more like lexical... Is it also impersonal? BTW: isn't there any ambiguity? (Hij kan komen may mean he is able to and he might-)
     
  4. Perseas Senior Member

    Athens - GR
    Greek
    Yes, 'bori' sometimes is impersonal. For example: μπορεί να πάω στο θέατρο. --> "bori" is in 3rd person singular (impersonal), whereas the meaning is that I might go to theater.

    Without context there may be ambiguity.
     
  5. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Can you use it in two ways then, with a personal and an impersonal subject???
     
  6. Perseas Senior Member

    Athens - GR
    Greek
    Αυτός μπορεί να βγει έξω --> (He has recovered from his illness and now) he can go out. (μπορεί: personal)
    Αυτός μπορεί να βγει έξω --> Perhaps he might go out (or not). (μπορεί: impersonal)

    Usually, when possibility is expressed (see post 2 above) μπορεί is impersonal. When capacity or permission is expressed it is personal.
     
  7. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Prague
    Hungarian
    In Hungarian we use the suffix -hat/-het in all cases.
     
  8. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Pardon? Not an aux., or no aux. even? Could you illustrate that with some examples?
     
  9. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Prague
    Hungarian
    No, since Hungarian is not an Indo-European language, we use a different structure in that case.
    he can do it (capacity) • megteheti
    she may (might) do it (possibility) • megteheti
    he can do it (permission) • megteheti
    where
    meg- = prefix like German or Dutch to show the verb is perfective
    te- < tesz = to do
    -heti = he can used in transitive mode
     
  10. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    Ankara
    Turkish
    Turkish is like Hungarian: we use -ebil in all three cases.

    He can do it (capacity): yapabilir
    She may/might do it: yapabilir
    He can do it (permission): yapabilir

    Of course we can paraphrase add a couple of more words in case precision is needed, but if there is no ambiguity, then these forms are just fine.
     
  11. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Prague
    Hungarian
    Of course we Hungarians, too, can paraphrase add a couple of more words in case precision is needed, but if there is no ambiguity, then these forms are just fine
     
  12. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Interesting, thanks. But do you have any common lexical verbs that might convey the same idea?
     
  13. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Prague
    Hungarian
    of course, there is a lot, just like in English. But you did not mention the goal of the thread... ;)
     
  14. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I admit. It might be beyond the scope of the question. I stupidly thought permission/ possibility/ ... are almost necessarily expressed by means of a verb, that is why I went on asking about alternatives.
     
  15. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungary
    Hungarian - Hungary
    Of course, there are (see below) but I think Encolpius's hesitation comes from the fact that the expression of these are very "rich" in Hungarian and there are also some complications with the use of even those that can be considered as common verbs.
    So knowing this, let me pick the three most common possibilties (tud - vb, lehet - vb, szabad - adj., although -rarely - it has some verbal forms as well):

    - he can do it (capacity) - meg tudja csinálni
    (capacity expressed by tud meaning "knows" followed by an infinitive)

    - she may (might) do it (possibility) - lehet, hogy megcsinálja (=possible that he does it)
    (an objective possibility - i.e. if the circumstances allow it - can be expressed by lehet + infinitive*, here with a different structure but let us not go into the whys.)

    - he can do it (permission) - meg szabad csinálnia
    (permission is often expressed by szabad - adj. meaning free, allowed,etc. - + infinitive, here conjugated!, again difficult to explain easily why)

    Although if you look at it from the English teacher's point of view, I would have said that may/might is usually (esp. at Level 1:D) translated as szabad (permission) and can by tud and lehet (capacity + possibility).:)
     
  16. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Rich, in the sense of difficult to use? Do you consider them strict synonyms?
     
  17. mataripis

    mataripis Senior Member

    Tagalog: 1.) He can do it. (magagawa nya iyon) 2.) She may do it.(maaring magawa nya iyon.) 3.) He can do it.(magagampanan nya iyon.)
     
  18. Zsanna

    Zsanna ModErrata

    Hungary
    Hungarian - Hungary
    No, I meant that there are quite a lot of synonyms (e.g. not only tud but képes, bír etc.instead of the "simple" can) but all the possible words (that, all in all, can be verbs as well as adjectives etc.) would be used in different structures and often even in different shades or register.
    I don't really know which words you asked about as synonyms. Those in post 15 are not, but tud, képes, bír - yes...
     
  19. bibax Senior Member

    Czech
    Czech:

    on to umí udělat (he knows the way how to do it);
    on to může udělat (he has a possibility/opportunity/choice...);
    on to smí udělat (he has a permission ...);
    on to musí udělat (he is obliged ...);

    There are other possibilities like in English (must = to be obliged = to have to = ...), but the verbs uměti, moci, směti, museti (from German müssen) are basic modal verbs.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2012
  20. Tamar

    Tamar Senior Member

    Israel, Hebrew
    In Hebrew there's no verb for may / mogen (Isrealis who learn Dutch always have a problem with mogen, even if they speak English).
    In Hebrew I would say it all with להיות יכול - [lihiyot yakhol] - to be able to/can

    he can do it (capacity) - הוא יכול לעשות את זה [hu yakhol la'asot et ze]
    - she may (might) do it (possibility) - היא יכולה לעשות את זה [hi yekhola la'asot et ze]
    - he can do it (permission) - הוא יכול לעשות את זה [hu yakhol la'asot et ze]

    Of course, it is possible to change the sentence a bit, but then the structure is totaly different and it's not a pronoun + its verb (I don't really know how to explain this construction, sorry...).
    For permission, for example, you can say : מותר לו לעשות את זה [mutar lo la'asot et ze]

    And of course, context always solves the problem :)
     
  21. learnerr Senior Member

    Russian
    I had encountered an opposition, and I think this opposition is a better description for these two words... It is objective vs. subjective possibility. So, can expresses objective possibility (one that affects the things and depends on them), may expresses subjective possibility (one that we think of when thinking and might depend on us).
    And yes, answering the question, in Russian both meanings are generally delivered by the same verb, "мочь" (cognate with "могущество", power/mightiness, "мощный", powerful/mighty).
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2014
  22. arielipi Senior Member

    Israel
    Hebrew
    I disagree with you; Hebrew suffers from some redundancy and difficulties with present progressive verbs and what you gave is the most common and fit to anything solution.
    he can do it (capacity) - הוא מסוגל לעשות את זה [hu mesugal la'asot et ze]
    - she may (might) do it (possibility) - היא אולי תעשה את זה [hi ulay taase et ze]
    - he can do it (permission) - הוא יכול לעשות את זה [hu yachol la'asot et ze]

    also for the second, if its strictly may, as in 'it may happen' then עלול alul should be used.
    also for the second one could say ייתכן והיא תעשה זאת yitachen vehi ta'ase zot
     
  23. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I am surprised that the distinction is not considered necessary, is not made 'per se'. But I suppose it has to do with some kind of semantic similarity between capacity, permission, possibility.
     
  24. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Permission is expressed by "may" or "can" in English. "may" sounds a bit formal, but it is considered to be the less ambiguous verb for expressing permission, since (unlike "can") it does not also refer to capability.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2014
  25. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    You're right, but then that does imply that the distinction is considered important, I guess. I recognize a tendency in Dutch to replace 'mogen' (expressing permission) by 'kunnen', which is based, I think, on the fact that we avoid a hierarchical framework and replace it by some kind of conditionality based on objective grounds, like : "Does/ Do this situation/ context/these circumstances allow for this or that action?" So I think we avoid permission and refer to possibility, feasibility, even if strictly speaking everything has to do with authority...
     
  26. L'irlandais

    L'irlandais Senior Member

    Dreyeckland/Alsace region
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Irish
    can (to be able) = is féidir le
    may = féad
    may* (asking permission) = an bhfuil cead agam tobac a caitheamh anseo? (may I smoke here?)

    *I agree wth Gavril, asking permission is with the word "may" ; just because the majority incorrectly use "can" doesn't make it acceptable usage.
     
  27. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I am sorry about my mistake! Do these three have a root (like /ad/ - but that might be an ending only, or /fe-d/)?

    I'll dig into these three concepts myself to see whether they have a common (semantic) root concept? One would be inclined to believe that...
     
  28. Sempervirens Senior Member

    italiano
    Salve! Le frasi , con la lettera minuscola, sono subordinate? Oppure sono (frasi) principali?

    Ad ogni modo, dipende molto dal contesto. In linea di massima le tre frasi in questione le potremmo rendere in italiano con i verbi potere e riuscire e il verbo procomplementare farcela, ma non escludo, a seconda della frase, l'uso del verbo sapere seguito da un infinito verbale, es. "sa farlo". Come anzidetto, dipende dalla frase e dal contesto.

    Tieni conto che l'italiano consiste di sette modi verbali e 21 tempi verbali, e che pure i verbi servili sono ripartiti in modi e coniugazioni, tempi finiti e infiniti.

    P.S Per quanto riguarda le traduzioni di italiano e inglese, se la cosa interessa e se si vuole indagare approfonditamente, sempre in merito alle frasi che hai posto ad esempio, allora sarebbe meglio cercare nella sezione dedicata alle traduzioni tra queste due lingue.

    S.V
     
  29. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thy're main clauses, frasi principali? I'd say, but I'm not sure what sentences you are referring to.

    I can imagine sapere in clause #1, but in #2? Potere in all three: OK. I'd associate riuscire with capacity only, or am I mistaken?
     
  30. L'irlandais

    L'irlandais Senior Member

    Dreyeckland/Alsace region
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Cannot be much help about the Irish, as far from fluent in the language of my homeland. Most folks mix up can and may in English in that context, so no need to apologise. Indeed in Irish the distinction between the first 2 points, isn't there. féad means both can & may as far as I know.
     
  31. Holger2014 Senior Member

    German
    In German, you can use the verb kann < können in all three cases. Sometimes another verb, mag < mögen, appears in set phrases like Es mag schwierig sein, aber unmöglich ist es nicht ('It may be difficult but it's not impossible'). With regard to permission, there are two options: either kann < können or darf < dürfen. The latter may sound a bit more formal.
    - Er kann schwimmen - He can swim (capacity)
    - Es kann schwierig sein - It can/may be difficult (possibility)
    - Kann/Darf ich etwas fragen? - Can/May I ask something? (permission)

    Estonian distinguishes between oskab < oskama (1) (2) for capacity and võib (võin) < võima (3) (4) for possibility and permission. Perhaps native speakers could add some more details.
    - Ta oskab ujuda - He can swim (capacity)
    - See võib olla* raske - It/This can/may be difficult (possibility)
    - Kas ma võin midagi küsida? - Can/May I ask something? (permission)

    * olla = to be; võib olla ~ it can/may be; võib-olla = maybe, perhaps
     
  32. Armas Senior Member

    Finnish
    Finnish

    Capacity:
    Osaan tehdä sen = I can do it (skill)
    Pystyn tekemään sen = I can do it
    Kykenen tekemään sen = I can do it

    Possibility:
    Saatan tehdä sen = I may do it
    Voin tehdä sen = I may do it

    Permission:
    Saan tehdä sen = I can do it
    Voin tehdä sen = I can do it
     
  33. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Do you really have two verbs for each of these meanings? Of course English has ought to/ should, but still... Do they have deviant morphological characteristics, like some forms lacking? Can you combine them with an nominal object (*I can English)?
     
  34. ilocas2 Senior Member

  35. Armas Senior Member

    Finnish
    No, they don't have any deviant morphological characteristics. Some of them can combine with nouns; osata can have a direct noun object whereas pystyä combines with a noun in illative case, kyetä combines with a noun in some locative case or translative case.

    Osaan englantia = I can speak English
    Pystyn parempaan = I can do better (parempaan is illative of parempi "better")
    Kykenen julmuuteen = I am capable of cruelty (julmuuteen is illative of julmuus "cruelty")
     
  36. 810senior

    810senior Senior Member

    Japanese
    Generally in Japanese:

     
  37. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Could I conclude from that they are not real auxiliaries, more like lexical verbs (which might account for why they can take objects)?

    Can you do anything like that with the permission and possibility verbs?

    Japanese :
    - he can do it (capacity) - kare nara yareru (if it comes down to him, he can do it) : yar-er-u, inf. yar-u(to do) + potential suffix -er-u(be able to)
    - she may (might) do it (possibility) - kanozyo nara yatte kureru kamo shirenai (if it comes down to her, we know that she would do it) an expression like kamo shirenai(lit. uncertain whether or not) actually means may or might be that.
    - he can do it (permission) - I'm not certain if I could translate it properly but my attempt says yattemo ii (it's fine if he does it) or kare ni yarasete kudasai(let him do with that).​

    So ability is expressed by means of a suffix? That is new...
    Possibility and permission are expressed by means of a lexical paraphrase, aren't they? So you have no [auxiliary] verb meaning 'may (might)' or 'may (can)'?
     
  38. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    If you could, then this kind of logic would seem to disqualify Spanish poder from being a real auxiliary verb as well:

    El perro le puede al gato. "The dog beats [i.e., overcomes] the cat." [indirect object with a "to"]

    Ya no puedo con esto. "I can't take this anymore!" [indirect obj. involving con "with"]
     
  39. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    You might be right, but I think the term "auxiliaries" implies supporting (helping, AUX) another verb. Maybe some words are not always used as AUX, or they have developed various meanings in the course of history??? (I am not that well informed about the definition of an AUX, I must admit...)
     
  40. 810senior

    810senior Senior Member

    Japanese
    @ThomasK, Japanese language has as well auxiliary verbs like may and can in English as you have expected them.
    We conjugates the verb adhered on an auxiliary verb in a diverse way, unlike most of the languages that would have verbs conjugated in infinitive. (I guess they work more similarly to affixes in others)

    られるrareru or れるreru (ability) : yume-wo mir-u(have a dream) → yume-wo mir-a-reru(can have a dream)
    u or ようyou (possibility, will) : kare-nara wakar-u(he know this) → kare-nara waka-ro-u(he will know this)

    As for possibility and permission, you're partly right; possibility can be expressed by either lexical phrase(koto-ga dekir-u; lit. can do the thing like -ing) or auxiliary verb(-rareru, -reru).
    But the permission is only conveyed by lexical phrase like shitemo yoi(it's fine if you do).
     

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