expressing prohibition - mustn't/can't

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angelene001

Senior Member
Polish
Can I express that something is forbidden using both "mustn't" and "can't" without any change in meaning?
Does both senteces above really mean the same?
1) You mustn't park here.
2) You can't park here.

If I'm supposed to paraphrase such a sentence, are both options correct?
You aren't allowed to take these books out of the library.
A) You mustn't take these books out of the library.
B) You can't take these books out of the library.
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    They're very similar. 'Mustn't' can sound as if you're the person who is prohibiting the action, or as if you're surprised at the person who is trying to do the prohibited action. 'Can't' is more likely if you're simply reporting a rule, as in your two examples.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There are subtle differences, and, needless to say the words have different force on different people's lips.

    The precise force can depend on what sort of activity is being discouraged.

    1) You mustn't park here - could mean that the speaker doesn't want you to park here.
    2) You can't park here - ditto, but less likely; the possibility of a legal prohibition is greater here, in my view.

    A) You mustn't take these books out of the library - could mean that they are intriguingly pornographic and I don't want you looking at them.
    B) You can't take these books out of the library - ditto, but less likely; the possibility of a legal prohibition is greater here, in my view.

    I know a lot of advanced learners of English who think that getting a sense of these modal auxiliaries is one of the hardest parts of learning English.

    Cross-posted with Engangled.
     

    angelene001

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thank you.
    Do you think that at pre-intermediate level these subtle differences can be put aside and "=" can be put between "can't" and "mustn't" meaning "you aren't allowed to"? Especially when you do exercises and you don't know the context, all you have is a single gap sentence, like "you .... park here".
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thank you.
    Do you think that at pre-intermediate level these subtle differences can be put aside and "=" can be put between "can't" and "mustn't" meaning "you aren't allowed to"? Especially when you do exercises and you don't know the context, all you have is a single gap sentence, like "you .... park here".
    I'm not qualified really to express what differences in meaning can be hidden from students at pre-intermediate level, Angelene.

    Teachers often tell students things which present a limited version of the truth - when they aren't saying things which are blatantly false, that is.
     

    By-the-sea

    Member
    English - Scotland
    From personal experience, I think the important distinction to get across at the pre-int level is the one TT makes here:

    1) You mustn't park here - could mean that the speaker doesn't want you to park here.
    2) You can't park here - ditto, but less likely; the possibility of a legal prohibition is greater here, in my view.

    You may wish to ensure that students understand that the person to whom the 'You must...' is addressed may take it to mean they are being given an order, since the failure to understand this can lead to students unknowingly saying inappropriate things to people. This can be a problem in international companies, for example, where there are native speaker and non-native speaker employees. The distinction may be less important for learners who don't communicate with native speakers, since many non-native speakers, in my experience, are less sensitive to this distinction and may not feel so offended. But it will all depend on why they are studying English and what the goals of the course are.
     

    angelene001

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thank you for your help :)
    If I may, I'd like to ask some further questions.

    Does "must" always imply the will of the speaker?
    For example:
    You mustn't make noise.
    1) I order you not to do so because I can't stand it. I want you not to make noise.
    2) I order you no to do so because you are clearly breaking the rules and I'm surprised that you disregard the rules. I want you not to make noise because of the rules but it is still my will in the prohibition and I don't just report the rules.
    3) Can this sentence be used as a rule, for example written on the notice on the wall in the library?
    4) Can it be used to report a rule? I'm a librarian and I tell you what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do in the library according to the rules.

    I will be very grateful for you help.
     
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