Can't/couldn't

Tostyleun

Member
Kannada - India
Hello teachers,

Can you say cannot when the person isn't alive anymore?

" He can't commit suicide. " (Should I use he cannot have?)

Another example.

Can I say " He can't murder him" When the accused is still alive?

Thank you.
 
  • Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    If you are speculating about whether a dead person committed suicide or not, you could say:

    He couldn't have committed suicide.
    You may also hear:
    He can't have committed suicide.

    Can I say " He can't murder him" When the accused is still alive?
    If X is dead and Y is alive and Y is suspected of murdering X, but you think he is innocent (for an evidential reason), you could say:
    Y couldn't have murdered X.
    You may also hear:
    Y can't have murdered X.

    "Couldn't have" and "can't have" imply that you have a good reason for thinking that. It implies it was "impossible".
    For example:
    Bill couldn't have murdered Tom last week - Bill was in another country, or unconscious in hospital, or in jail at that time.
     
    Last edited:

    Tostyleun

    Member
    Kannada - India
    How about "he can't commit suicide" when he isn't alive anymore?

    "He can't murder him" When the accused is still alive. Or should I say he can't have?

    Thank you sir.
    If you are speculating about whether a dead person committed suicide or not, you could say:

    He couldn't have committed suicide.
    You may also hear: He can't have committed suicide.
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    "He can't murder him"
    I think you could only say that BEFORE the person was murdered (ie they are still alive).

    If you are talking about a murder that has already happened, you would need to use something like "He couldn't have murdered him" or "He can't have murdered him".

    If you said "John can't murder Tom", it tells me that Tom is still alive and you are saying it is not possible for Tom to murder Tom.

    (Note: In general, "can't" means it is impossible, or extremely awkward, but sometimes "can't" is used to mean it is forbidden or not allowed.

    Jenny can't come out to play football today; her mother says she must do her maths homework.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Tostyleun, you have not explained what you mean by “can’t”. Is it
    Adam can’t murder Ben because Adam does not have a gun or
    Adam can’t murder Ben because it is illegal and immoral or
    Adam can’t murder Ben because I know Ben is still alive at the end of the show
    or something else?
     

    Tostyleun

    Member
    Kannada - India
    So perfect sir.
    I think you could only say that BEFORE the person was murdered (ie they are still alive).

    If you are talking about a murder that has already happened, you would need to use something like "He couldn't have murdered him" or "He can't have murdered him".

    If you said "John can't murder Tom", it tells me that Tom is still alive and you are saying it is not possible for Tom to murder Tom.

    (Note: In general, "can't" means it is impossible, or extremely awkward, but sometimes "can't" is used to mean it is forbidden or not allowed.

    Jenny can't come out to play football today; her mother says she must do her maths homework.
    So perfect sir. You answered my query.

    Thank you.
     

    Tostyleun

    Member
    Kannada - India
    Tostyleun, you have not explained what you mean by “can’t”. Is it
    Adam can’t murder Ben because Adam does not have a gun or
    Adam can’t murder Ben because it is illegal and immoral or
    Adam can’t murder Ben because I know Ben is still alive at the end of the show
    or something else?
    I was referring to the tense. Someone else understood my question n answered correctly. Thank you.
     
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