Dürfen vs können

Tino_no

Senior Member
Español mexicano
Hi, I'd like to know what's the diferende between "dürfen" and "konnen" because they have the same meaning for me.

"Du kannst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen"
"Du darfst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen"

"You can go to the movies with your friends"


please, correct all my mistakes, I'm not good in german :'(
 
  • MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    Tino_no said:
    Hi, I'd like to know what's the diferende between "dürfen" and "konnen" because they have the same meaning for me.

    "Du kannst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen"
    "Du darfst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen"

    "You can go to the movies with your friends"


    please, correct all my mistakes, I'm not good in german :'(


    Hallo Tino,

    the difference is about the same as it is in English, just compare

    "You can go to the movies with your friends" and
    "You may go to the movies with your friends".
    (===> Here, both sentences mean: "You're allowed to go to the movies with your friends.")

    In this case, in English as well as in German, both can and may express allowance.

    "may" expresses allowance only, "can" can express allowance, too - beside ability.
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    Tino_no said:
    Hi, I'd like to know what's the diference between "dürfen" and "können" because they have the same meaning for me.

    "Du kannst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen"
    "Du darfst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen"

    "You can go to the movies with your friends"


    please, correct all my mistakes, I'm not good in german :'(
    First of all, I would change the wording of your sentence to:
    Du kannst/darfst mit deinen Freunden ins Kino gehen.

    What you wrote is possible as well but it would have to follow from a situation like:
    (Nein, alleine auf keinen Fall, aber) du kannst ins Kino mit deinen Freunden gehen.
    "Mit deinen Freunden" would be stressed.

    About the difference between "können" and "dürfen":
    To me, "dürfen" implies someone else's permission and "können" your personal ability/disponibility.
    But in sentences like those above, they are quite similar in German.

    I am not a native --> take it all with a pinch of salt, please. :)

    Jana

    P.S. We have got a sticky thread about writing Umlauts. Alternatively, you may want to install the German keyboard.
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    Jana337 said:
    About the difference between "können" and "dürfen":
    To me, "dürfen" implies someone else's permission and "können" your personal ability/disponibility.
    But in sentences like those above, they are quite similar in German.


    In Tino's case, it is the same situation for both sentences.
    The speaker allows somebody to go to the movies, "can" and "may" are interchangeable here.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    MrMagoo said:
    Hallo Tino,

    the difference is about the same as it is in English, just compare

    "You can go to the movies with your friends" and
    "You may go to the movies with your friends".
    (===> Here, both sentences mean: "You're allowed to go to the movies with your friends.")

    In this case, in English as well as in German, both can and may express allowance.

    "may" expresses allowance only, "can" can express allowance, too - beside ability.
    MrM,

    Formally, in English, if you are also conservative and a hairsplitter, "may" is the only choice for "being allowed". "Can" is the only choice for "being able to".

    In general that's pretty "anal", but the rule MIGHT be followed to some extent in narration.

    The problem is that in speech, we interchange "may" and "can", just as you said. In narration, "may" is changed to "might", past-tense. And I believe, though I'm not sure, that the distinction between may and can is preserved more in BE. :)

    Here is one example where there is actually a THEORETICAL difference:

    I asked my teacher, "Can I play that piece now?" (Am I good enough, do I have enough ability.)

    I asked my teacher, "May I play that piece now?" (Is it okay, will you give me permission.)

    (I would say "can" in both sentences though.) ;)

    Gaer
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    MrMagoo said:
    In Tino's case, it is the same situation for both sentences.
    The speaker allows somebody to go to the movies, "can" and "may" are interchangeable here.

    Not necessarily. "Du kannst" could literally mean "you can" ("you have the ability to").

    Du hast doch heute Abend Zeit. Du kannst (könntest) mit deinen Freunden ins Kino gehen.

    Du bist ja nicht mehr krank. Du kannst schon mit deinen Freunden ins Kino gehen.
     

    sohc4

    Senior Member
    Germany, German
    gaer said:
    Formally, in English, if you are also conservative and a hairsplitter, "may" is the only choice for "being allowed". "Can" is the only choice for "being able to".

    Here is one example where there is actually a THEORETICAL difference:

    I asked my teacher, "Can I play that piece now?" (Am I good enough, do I have enough ability.)

    I asked my teacher, "May I play that piece now?" (Is it okay, will you give me permission.)
    Reminds me when I was in London years ago and wanted to go to the bathroom:

    "Can I go to the bathroom?" - "No, we don't have any such facilities here :D."

    Axl
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    gaer said:
    MrM,

    Formally, in English, if you are also conservative and a hairsplitter, "may" is the only choice for "being allowed". "Can" is the only choice for "being able to".

    In general that's pretty "anal", but the rule MIGHT be followed to some extent in narration.

    The problem is that in speech, we interchange "may" and "can", just as you said. In narration, "may" is changed to "might", past-tense. And I believe, though I'm not sure, that the distinction between may and can is preserved more in BE. :)

    Here is one example where there is actually a THEORETICAL difference:

    I asked my teacher, "Can I play that piece now?" (Am I good enough, do I have enough ability.)

    I asked my teacher, "May I play that piece now?" (Is it okay, will you give me permission.)

    (I would say "can" in both sentences though.) ;)

    Gaer


    Of course I do know this - and again: it's exactly the same situation in German:
    "Kann ich das Stück jetzt spielen?"
    --> means either "Am I able to play it now?" and "Am I allowed to play it now?"
    "Darf ich das Stück jetzt spielen?"
    --> only means "Am I allowed to play it now?".

    I just wanted to show that in Tino's case, "can" meaning "being able to" is totally nonsense - I doubt that "You can go to the movies with your friends" ever expresses the physical ability of going to the movies... ;)
    The "ability" is almost always given in sentences like this; asking somebody for going to the movies with friends hardly implies asking for ability.;)

    I'd say that in this case even a hairsplitter would have to admit that "can" means "be allowed to" here... .


    The "past tense" forms which are subjunctive forms actually usually imply allowance as well (a bit more polite of course):
    "Could I play the piece?", "Might I play the piece?".
    Again, the same in German:
    "Könnte ich das Stück spielen?", "Dürfte ich das Stück jetzt spielen?"
    while the past tense is
    "Konnte ich das Stück spielen?", "Durfte ich das Stück spielen?",
    which is usually expressed by the paraphrasing forms
    "Was I able to play the piece?" and "Was I allowed to play the piece?"
    even though "could" and "might" could be used here, as well.
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    elroy said:
    Not necessarily. "Du kannst" could literally mean "you can" ("you have the ability to").

    Du hast doch heute Abend Zeit. Du kannst (könntest) mit deinen Freunden ins Kino gehen.

    Du bist ja nicht mehr krank. Du kannst schon mit deinen Freunden ins Kino gehen.

    Ja natürlich kann es auch die "Fähigkeit" beinhalten, das habe ich nie bestritten. "Can/Können" schließt beide Möglichkeiten ein.

    Übrigens: In Deinem zweiten Beispiel könnte man durchaus mit der von Gaer erwähnten Haarspalterei arbeiten:
    Wenn jemand nicht mehr (sehr) krank ist - hat er natürlich einerseits die "Fähigkeit" ins Kino zu gehen, denn er ist körperlich wieder in der Lage und zudem auch die "Erlaubnis", denn es bestehen sicher keine Befürchtungen mehr, daß es diesem jemand wieder schlechter gehen sollte, falls er ins Kino ginge... ganz im Sinne von "Du bist ja nicht mehr krank, Du darfst ruhig schon wieder mit deinen Freunden ins Kino." ;)
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    sohc4 said:
    Reminds me when I was in London years ago and wanted to go to the bathroom:

    "Can I go to the bathroom?" - "No, we don't have any such facilities here :D."

    Axl

    Wiederum dieselbe Situation im Deutschen:

    "Kann ich auf die Toilette gehen?"
    "Ich weiß nicht, ob du das kannst, aber du kannst es mal versuchen!" ;)
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    MrMagoo said:
    Ja natürlich kann es auch die "Fähigkeit" beinhalten, das habe ich nie bestritten.

    Dann sind wir uns einig. :) Es shien mir einfach so, als hättest du behauptet, dass "Erlaubnis" die einzige Möglichkeit wäre.

    Eigentlich hast du in einem späteren Beitrag gemeint, es sei sogar "nonsense," und zwar wegen des "with your friends." :)

    "Can/Können" schließt beide Möglichkeiten ein.

    Übrigens: In Deinem zweiten Beispiel könnte man durchaus mit der von Gaer erwähnten Haarspalterei arbeiten:
    Wenn jemand nicht mehr (sehr) krank ist - hat er natürlich einerseits die "Fähigkeit" ins Kino zu gehen, denn er ist körperlich wieder in der Lage und zudem auch die "Erlaubnis", denn es bestehen sicher keine Befürchtungen mehr, daß es diesem jemand wieder schlechter gehen sollte, falls er ins Kino ginge... ganz im Sinne von "Du bist ja nicht mehr krank, Du darfst ruhig schon wieder mit deinen Freunden ins Kino." ;)

    Selbstverständlich. Der Zusammenhang ist nach wie vor unerlässlich.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    elroy said:
    Eigentlich hast du in einem späteren Beitrag gemeint, es sei sogar "nonsense," und zwar wegen des "with your friends." :)

    Das ist zwar schönes Deutsch, aber ich glaube ein bisschen zu "genitivgeprägt". ;) "wegen des" ist eine wunderschöne Konstruktion, und ich habe auch gar nichts dagegen, dennoch fände ich es einfacher, das "des" in deinem Satz wegzulassen. Andererseits klingt der Satz ein wenig unvollständig. ;)
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    Whodunit said:
    Das ist zwar schönes Deutsch, aber ich glaube ein bisschen zu "genitivgeprägt". ;) "wegen des" ist eine wunderschöne Konstruktion, und ich habe auch gar nichts dagegen, dennoch fände ich es einfacher, das "des" in deinem Satz wegzulassen. Andererseits klingt der Satz ein wenig unvollständig. ;)

    "with your friends" ist in diesem Fall dann ein feststehender Ausdruck, der im Singular gebraucht wird - theoretisch könnten wir also an das im Ausdruck verwendete Plural-s noch das Genitiv-s des gesamten Ausdrucks anhängen und wir hätten "wegen des with your friendss" *lol* (Das ist natürlich Schwachsinn, also schnell wieder vergessen!!!!) ;)
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    elroy said:
    Dann sind wir uns einig. :) Es shien mir einfach so, als hättest du behauptet, dass "Erlaubnis" die einzige Möglichkeit wäre.

    Nein nein, ganz und gar nicht. "können" kann fast immer beide Bedeutungen haben.


    Eigentlich hast du in einem späteren Beitrag gemeint, es sei sogar "nonsense," und zwar wegen des "with your friends." :)

    Naja, mit dem "total" war vielleicht ein wenig zu streng, dennoch: der Zusammenhang, der durch "with your friends" gegeben wird, läßt nahezu eindeutig auf eine Frage nach Erlaubnis schließen; weshalb sollte jemand nach der 'Fähigkeit' des Ins-Kino-Gehens fragen? Der Sprecher weiß normalerweise doch selber, ob er dazu in der Lage ist. ;)
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Auf Englisch hätte man ruhig because of the "with your friends" sagen können.

    Daher hatte ich das "des" trotz der "Unvollständigkeit" gebraucht.
     

    MrMagoo

    Senior Member
    Westphalia, Germany; German
    elroy said:
    Auf Englisch hätte man ruhig because of the "with your friends" sagen können.

    Daher hatte ich das "des" trotz der "Unvollständigkeit" gebraucht.

    Das ist auch richtig! Ich hätt's genauso geschrieben.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    elroy said:
    Auf Englisch hätte man ruhig because of the "with your friends" sagen können.

    Daher hatte ich das "des" trotz der "Unvollständigkeit" gebraucht.

    Auf Englisch schon, aber auf Deutsch klang es so, als würdest du hinter "with your friends" noch "Satzes" anfügen wollen, oder zumindest irgendetwas in der Richtung.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    MrMagoo said:
    I just wanted to show that in Tino's case, "can" meaning "being able to" is totally nonsense - I doubt that "You can go to the movies with your friends" ever expresses the physical ability of going to the movies... ;)
    The "ability" is almost always given in sentences like this; asking somebody for going to the movies with friends hardly implies asking for ability.;)

    I'd say that in this case even a hairsplitter would have to admit that "can" means "be allowed to" here... .
    I absolutely agree with you. I think context makes the meaning clear in almost all sentences. ;)
    The "past tense" forms which are subjunctive forms actually usually imply allowance as well (a bit more polite of course):
    "Could I play the piece?", "Might I play the piece?".
    Again, the same in German:
    "Könnte ich das Stück spielen?", "Dürfte ich das Stück jetzt?"
    while the past tense is
    "Konnte ich das Stück spielen?", "Durfte ich das Stück spielen?",
    which is usually expressed by the paraphrasing forms
    "Was I able to play the piece?" and "Was I allowed to play the piece?"
    even though "could" and "might" could be used here, as well.
    Yes. It's really the same, isn't it? Sometimes German and English are so alike, it's totally amazing!

    Gaer
     

    nic456

    Senior Member
    UK
    alemán
    A question to our contributors across the big pond: I feel somewhat uneasy about reading allowance, though it is linked to the verb allow and allow is less formal than permit.:confused:

    Yet I would have preferred the use of permission.

    "Konnte ich das Stück spielen?"
    If you refer to performance/the result of your actions, you might want to consider (BE) using other verbs such as

    Did I manage to play the piece well?
    Did I perform well playing the piece?

    Was I able to ...? is perfectly understandable, but it does not sound quite right, does it?
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    nic456 said:
    A question to our contributors across the big pond: I feel somewhat uneasy about reading allowance, though it is linked to the verb allow and allow is less formal than permit.:confused:

    Yet I would have preferred the use of permission.
    Nick, it would help if you would quote at least part of the message to which you are referring.
    "Konnte ich das Stück spielen?"
    If you refer to performance/the result of your actions, you might want to consider (BE) using other verbs such as

    Did I manage to play the piece well?
    Did I perform well playing the piece?
    I think those two sentence work just as well in AE. In addition, the German question (Konnte ich das Stück spielen?) is a perfect example of something that is totally unclear to me without context. And I believe that is what we have been discussing.

    For instance: "Could I really play the piece? (Was I really able to play it.) Or is it my imagination that I once mastered it? Perhaps I couldn't."

    In order to get the other mening, in English, this does not work for me:

    "Could I play the piece?"

    I need context, again.

    We were talking about a very hard composition, and my teacher said that I was not ready, that I need to learn other pieces first.

    I asked her, "Could I study the piece with you if I learn those other pieces first?"

    Yes, she said. "If you learn the other ones first, then I'll allow you to learn the one you are talking about."

    Context, always context. It may make what would otherwise be extremely ambiguous wording fairly lucid, and the lack of it may make a perfectly clear looking sentence impossible to interpret.

    This is why I think we get into so much trouble, not only in this fourm, but in all the forums. People do not give us enough context. We begin generalizing, assuming we are talking about the same thing, and often we are not. It gets especially confusing when we are dealing with two language (at least)! :)
    Was I able to ...? is perfectly understandable, but it does not sound quite right, does it?
    I don't think it sounds correct in the sentence I believe you are referencing, but the problem is not in the wording or grammar. The problem is linked to the sentence itself. How often do you ask yourself if you were able to do something, in the past?

    If you change I/ich to you/du, I think the problem disappears.

    Gaer
     

    Natsu

    Member
    Spanish
    First of all, thank you everyone. I was just learning the modal verbs and was wondering about the difference between "konnen" and "dürfen". You all were extremely helpful. I also learned a bit more of English. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in British English you should ask "May I go to the toilet?", right? Would that sound too posh or cheesy in the USA, or can you use it there too?

    Back to German, I loved this one:
    "Kann ich auf die Toilette gehen?"
    "Ich weiß nicht, ob du das kannst, aber du kannst es mal versuchen!" ;)
    But I don't know if I understood properly. I am confused by the "das" in "ob du das kannst". Would you translate that dialogue as:

    "Can I go to the toilet?"
    "I don't know whether you can, but you can well try!"

    I don't understand why the second phrase uses a "das" between subject and verb, and I don't understand why "mal" (isn't that an adverb?) goes preceded by "es". Can someone please translate that sentence?

    In any case, thank you everyone for your collaboration in this thread, it was extremely helpful and clarifying.
     

    Demiurg

    Senior Member
    German
    The "das" refers to "auf die Toilette gehen":

    Ich weiß nicht, ob du das kannst.
    Ich weiß nicht, ob du auf die Toilette gehen kannst.

    likewise "es":

    Du kannst es versuchen.
    Du kannst versuchen, auf die Toilette zu gehen.
     
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