Chen Wei was sure he could see a snake in the grass

Yichen

Senior Member
Chinese
Hello, all.

XIA SU: I'd like to invite you to dinner before you go. What about Thursday?
SUSAN: I'm free on Thursday. I'd love to come.
]XIA SU: I wanted to ask Chen Wei too, but he's away.
SUSAN: What a shame! Never mind, I'll write to him.
XIA SU: Do you remember when the three of us went on a picnic?
SUSAN: And Chen Wei was sure he could see a snake in the grass. I remember.
XIA SU: I've never laughed so much in all my life.

I think Chen Wei played a practical joke on his friends by saying something like, "Look out, there is a snake!"
But what does "could" in "he could see a snake" mean here?


Many many thanks.
 
  • Chez

    Senior Member
    English English
    It is the past tense of 'can'.
    Present: he can see a snake in the grass.
    Past: he could see a snake in the grass.
     
    If the account at the end, last two sentences is correct, then the line of dialogue, SUSAN: ...was sure he could see.... is not correct.

    This line suggests that Chen Wei was mistaken and *thought* he saw a snake, NOT that he was playing a practical joke.

    In case it was a practical joke, obviously it's not Chen Wei who was sure; it was the other two, hence

    SUSAN: And we {Xia Su and Susan) were sure** Chen Wei could see* a snake in the grass. I remember. {somewhat more accurate}

    *Better, 'was seeing' or, even better, "just saw".

    ** were convinced

    Even this is not fully informative, since it leaves out the Chen Wei caused this mistaken belief.


    SUSAN: And we were fooled by Chen Wei--that he'd just seen a snake in the grass. I remember. {Much more accurate}

    So, was Chen Wei mistaken or was he playing a practical joke. From the dialogue you linked to, there is no evidence of a practical joke, that I see.
    Where do you get that idea?
     
    Last edited:

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't see anything at all wrong with
    XIA SU: Do you remember when the three of us went on a picnic?
    SUSAN: And Chen Wei was sure he could see a snake in the grass. I remember.
    Susan is just continuing the sentence:
    "Do you remember when the three of us went on a picnic and Chen Wei was sure he could see a snake in the grass."

    I think Chen Wei played a practical joke on his friends by saying something like, "Look out, there is a snake!"
    There is no reason to believe that Chen Wei played a practical joke, because there is nothing in the text to suggest that was the case. The obvious interpretation is that Chen Wei was sure that he could see a snake - ie, a real snake. As Chez said, this is just a narrative using the simple past.
     

    Yichen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    So Chen Wei was himself frightened by a snake vision and thus it made the other two laughed.
    My grammar book (by a Chinese professor) first says: "could" here means "ability in the past", and then it says "Chen Wei boasted that he saw a snake." "He was sure that he could see a snake in the grass."
    I feel sorry I have not been convinced by this explanation of the professor's.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    My grammar book (by a Chinese professor) first says: "could" here means "ability in the past" :thumbsup: Yes, simple past of can.
    , and then it says "Chen Wei boasted that he saw a snake." :thumbsdown: Absolutely no reason whatsoever to think he was boasting.

    So Chen Wei was himself frightened by a snake vision and thus it made the other two laughed.
    We don't know. He might have liked snakes. We are not told why his friends thought it was funny - although the most likely explanation is, as you suggest, that he was frightened by thinking that he saw a snake.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    SUSAN: And we {Xia Su and Susan) were sure** Chen Wei could see* a snake in the grass. I remember. {somewhat more accurate}

    *Better, 'was seeing' or, even better, "just saw".
    In BE it's rather different: I think I can see a snake/I thought I could see a snake both sound very natural.

    It isn't usual in BE to use the continuous form of the verb see (he thought he was seeing a snake), so "he thought he could see a snake" (or "he thought he saw a snake") are preferred.
     
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