“can’t” to express a physical impossibility because of lack of ability

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Tenacious Learner, Feb 7, 2016.

  1. Tenacious Learner

    Tenacious Learner Senior Member

    Spanish
    Hello teachers.
    If I'm not mistaken, one of the uses of “can’t” is to express a physical impossibility because of lack of ability on the part of a person.

    If that is so, will all these example work for the above definition?
    1. She can't speak German.
    2. He can't play the piano.
    3. They can't ski at all.
    4. I can't understand that sentence.
    5. I can't park in this small place.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. StewieG Senior Member

    Polish
    Only number 5 expresses an actual physical impossibility to me but let's wait for native speakers to answer here.
     
  3. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Your use of "physical" muddies the waters.

    "If I'm not mistaken, one of the uses of “can’t” is to express an impossibility because of lack of ability on the part of a person."
    You are not mistaken. All of your sentences are examples of that meaning, although they could have other meanings, particularly "I can't park in this small place":
    1. I'm a hopeless driver and need lots of space to park a car. A lack of ability.
    2. My car is too big to fit in this space. - it's not the driver's lack of ability, but it is a physical impossibility. A lack of capability.
     
  4. Tenacious Learner

    Tenacious Learner Senior Member

    Spanish
    Thank you so much, Andygc! I wasn't that sure of the definition. Right, # 5 sure also has the other two definitions. Thought it want that clear, to me, a few minutes ago. :thumbsup:

    TL
     
  5. Tenacious Learner

    Tenacious Learner Senior Member

    Spanish
    One last question, Andygc:
    To talk succinctly, can I say that all the examples show inability?

    TL
     
  6. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    I don't think a native English speaker would say that the examples show inability. But I do think that a language learner would express it that way, and that by doing so, the language learner would be correctly showing they understood the usage of "can't" in those sentences.
     
  7. Tenacious Learner

    Tenacious Learner Senior Member

    Spanish
    Thank you Truffula. I was thinking and trying to find a word that conveys in meaning with an impossibility because of lack of ability on the part of a person. I can see that "inability" works for grammar but not for real life. Is that so?

    TL
     
  8. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    Native speakers would just use "can't" (verb, negated) or "unable" (adjective). In cases where a noun is really needed, it would vary with the context that indicated that exact meaning (inability, incapacity, disability, incapability, impossibility, lack of skill, lack of strength, and other possibilities). I'll try to think of some examples for you.

    When the man asked her to drive him to the store,

    she was unable to help him because she'd never learned to drive.
    she was unable to help him because her legs were both in casts past her knees.
    she couldn't. "I can't drive since I went blind," she said.
    her inability to drive made her unable to help.

    She tried to carve the wood into a toy, but her lack of skill interfered. She couldn't do anything but gouge bits out of the wood randomly.

    She tried to support herself, but her disability kept her out of the job force.

    She can't cheer up. She has a complete incapacity for happiness.

    She tries to lift the car off her foot, but it's an impossibility.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
  9. Tenacious Learner

    Tenacious Learner Senior Member

    Spanish
    Thank you very much Truffula.

    TL
     

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