He can't be coming

Bob8964

Senior Member
Chinese
Dear All,

Brian said he would definitely be here before 9.30. It's 10 o'clock now and he's never late. He can't be coming.

Please kindly whether "can't be coming" in the sentence above means a future fact, i.e. something won't happen in the future.

Thank you!
 
  • idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    "He can't be coming" does not, in my opinion, refer directly to the future.

    Brian is never late. It is now a half-hour later than he said he would arrive. Therefore, he is not coming.

    Obviously, there is a close connection to the future, i.e., if he is not coming, he will not arrive. But as it stands, "he can't be coming" means simply that he is most certainly not coming.
     

    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    "He can't be coming" does not, in my opinion, refer directly to the future.

    Brian is never late. It is now a half-hour later than he said he would arrive. Therefore, he is not coming.

    Obviously, there is a close connection to the future, i.e., if he is not coming, he will not arrive. But as it stands, "he can't be coming" means simply that he is most certainly not coming.

    In the quotation above, I'm not very clear about the meaning of "he is not coming". Does it mean that Brian has changed his mind, i.e. he is not going to come?
     

    idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The present continuous form ("he is coming") and the future ("he will come") are often used interchangeably in colloquial English. In fact, the continuous form is probably used much more in speech.

    "Bob and Susan are going to the movies tomorrow."
    "Bob and Susan will go to the movies tomorrow."

    These two sentences have the same meaning, but most native speakers would probably use the first sentence.

    So, to answer your question, "He isn't coming" does indeed mean the same thing as "He will not come."

    One reason that this example might be a little bit confusing is that the verb "to come" has a kind of built-in future meaning to begin with, since, logically, if somebody is coming it implies a future action, namely, that they will arrive. But even with verbs that have no implied future meaning, such as "to sing", for example, it works the same way.

    "I'm going to a concert tomorrow."
    "Really? Who's singing?"
    "Janis Joplin."
    "What? She can't be singing!"
    "Why not?"
    "Because she died a long time ago."
     

    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The present continuous form ("he is coming") and the future ("he will come") are often used interchangeably in colloquial English. In fact, the continuous form is probably used much more in speech.

    "Bob and Susan are going to the movies tomorrow."
    "Bob and Susan will go to the movies tomorrow."

    These two sentences have the same meaning, but most native speakers would probably use the first sentence.

    So, to answer your question, "He isn't coming" does indeed mean the same thing as "He will not come."
    idialegre, I think "Bob and Susan will go to the movies tomorrow." would mean a future fact in your sample. To my knowledge, it could be "will be doing" that is used interchangeably with "will do" in this context. So, I would think "Bob and Susan will go to the movies tomorrow." is equal to "Bob and Susan will be going to the movies tomorrow."

    Similarly, I think "he will not come." can be rewritten as "He won't be coming." And, a similar form of "He won't be coming." should be "He can't be coming."

    This is just my point of view. If I'm wrong, please help to correct it.
     

    Macunaíma

    Senior Member
    português, Brasil
    The modal verb can in its negative form may be used to express likelihood:

    - My application for the University of Cambridge was accepted!
    - You can't be serious! (Surely you're not serious!)

    Jane left only 10 minutes ago. She can't have arrived home yet.

    I'm sorry for what you're going through. I know that can't be easy.

    Etc.

    You could replace it with mustn't, but in some cases it would sound less idiomatic.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Dear All,

    Brian said he would definitely be here before 9.30. It's 10 o'clock now and he's never late. He can't be coming.

    Please kindly whether "can't be coming" in the sentence above means a future fact, i.e. something won't happen in the future.

    Thank you!
    Hello, Bob,

    'can't be coming' refers to a present certainity. The 'be coming' form of the verb refers to an ongoing action. 'He is not coming' expresses a fact, and 'can't be coming' doesn't, it is a little less certain. 'I'm sure he's not coming.' means practially the same. If our assumption is true, Brian won't come.

    In the situation given, we all expect that Brian is coming now (the main focus is the present moment). However, given the time and his absence we conclude that he isn't. Perhaps, he is doing something else now.

    EDIT: I've just seen the answer above.
     

    aes_uk

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Brian said he would definitely be here before 9.30. It's 10 o'clock now and he's never late. He can't be coming.
    Please kindly whether "can't be coming" in the sentence above means a future fact, i.e. something won't happen in the future.
    He can't be coming does imply a future fact, because you are saying that you do not think he will come. You could substitute "he can't be coming" for "he isn't going to come" or "he isn't coming". "He isn't going to come" is in the future tense whereas "he isn't coming" is the present tense, but they both have a future meaning in this context.
    Because you do not know for a fact that Brian isn't going to come, you just think he isn't, it would be better to say "I don't think he is going to come" or "I don't think he is coming".
    However, saying "he can't be coming" means the same as "he isn't going to come" or "he isn't coming" but it also expresses the element of doubt you have.
    So in answer to your question, "he can't be coming" does mean a future fact as you're saying something will not happen in the future: he will not come.

    Hope this helps! :)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Something that "can't be" is something impossible or implausible (logically nonsensical). The sentence "He can't be coming" is not about his own ability but the plausibility of his coming. In other words "It is logically impossible (implausible) for him to be coming."

    This is the literal meaning, but things that are actually believable are often called unbelievable/incredible and people say "I can't believe it" when in truth they already do believe it. I would say "He can't be coming" here is likely (though not necessarily) hyperbole.

    The sentence as I see it does not express doubt. Any doubt here is a surmise.
     

    aes_uk

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hi Bob8964,

    I think there is a problem with my private message settings on wordreference which meant that I don't think it worked when I tried to send you a reply to your private message. So here is what I had said:

    "Hello Bob,

    I'm glad I could help you! I think you've understood it well :)

    Bob8964 said:
    After thinking twice, I feel the following two sentence is not exactly the same:

    1. I don't think he will come.

    2. I don't think he is going to come.

    I think the first just indicates the fact that he won't come, but doesn't refer to the reason of it; comparatively, the second goes a step further - directly indicates that he doesn't intend to come.
    Do you agree with me?

    Both sentences mean the same thing - as you say, that he won't come. And in both sentences, you have said "I don't think" which expresses the fact that you do not know for a fact, but just think he won't come. There is a slight difference between them, that isn't really important and it is quite difficult to explain, but I think you explained it well when you said "the first just indicates the fact that he won't come, but doesn't refer to the reason of it; comparatively, the second goes a step further - directly indicates that he doesn't intend to come." I couldn't have explained it better myself! I can see that you understand it well.

    Regards,
    aes :)"
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I was just about to ask a question pretty much similar to the original one. If we put it in the past, would it be correct to say: "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was not coming."? (I mean to say that he was running late, not that he never showed up.)

    Thank you.
     
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    aes_uk

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Bob8964, I'm glad I could help! :)

    Xander2024,
    "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was not coming."? (I mean to say that he was running late, not that he never showed up.)
    If you say "he was not coming", this means that he did not intend to come, he didn't show up.
    If you want to say that he was running late, then it's fine to just say that:
    "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was running late"
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you so much, Aes uk. I did not know "he wasn't coming" meant "he never came". I thought it meant something like "He will surely come but he is a bit late".
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Bob8964, I'm glad I could help! :)

    Xander2024,

    If you say "he was not coming", this means that he did not intend to come, he didn't show up.
    If you want to say that he was running late, then it's fine to just say that:
    "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was running late"
    I'm not sure this means he did not intend to come.
    In fact, we really don't know if he did not show up in the end. If you take into consideration what Xander wrote, it's even reasonabe to assume that Brian did come, but he was late (cf. "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was not coming. We soon started to worry. He might have had an accident, we thought. Then, at 7.30, he came. All dirty and sweat. It turned out that he'd got a puncture, but didn't have a spare tire, so he had to...".

    I actually don't understand why "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was not coming." should be changed to mean what Xander wants it to mean. :confused:
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    What I wanted to find out was whether or not "he was not coming" could mean both "he never came" and "he did show up but a bit later."
    I understand that if we go back to the present, "he is not coming" will most likely mean "he is not going to come".
     

    aes_uk

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In fact, we really don't know if he did not show up in the end. If you take into consideration what Xander wrote, it's even reasonabe to assume that Brian did come, but he was late (cf. "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was not coming. We soon started to worry. He might have had an accident, we thought. Then, at 7.30, he came. All dirty and sweat. It turned out that he'd got a puncture, but didn't have a spare tire, so he had to...".
    It doesn't sound right to say "he was not coming" in the context you give because Brian did come in the end - in your example, I would say instead "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he still wasn't there/still hadn't come..."

    I actually don't understand why "It was 6 o'clock and we were waiting for Brian but he was not coming." should be changed to mean what Xander wants it to mean. :confused:
    It should be changed because "he was not coming" suggests that he wasn't intending to come, so he didn't come but Xander wanted to say that he was coming, but he was running late.

    Hope this makes it a bit clearer! :)
     

    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    Dear All,

    Brian said he would definitely be here before 9.30. It's 10 o'clock now and he's never late. He can't be coming.

    Please kindly whether "can't be coming" in the sentence above means a future fact, i.e. something won't happen in the future.

    Thank you!

    Could can't be coming be replaced by mustn't be coming in this context? I sort of feel that the former implies something like it's impossible while the latter is closer to that's the way I feel about the situation and I'm pretty sure. (BTW, the first time I saw this kind of usage of must not, I was a bit surprised as I'd never seen it before) Thanks for all your commetns
     

    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    Well, I hate to say that, but I've seen mustn't used in this way in grammar books, American English, and I was surprised. But when I asked my brother-in-law, who is American, he told me it was a common thing to say, so I figured it was something that existed, but haven't been able to tell the difference between "he can't be coming" and he must' be coming" so far. Please advise
     

    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    I apologize, I've just checked the previous threads and they pretty much confirmed what I thought the difference was. I just keep learning about this forum, the way it works, it's "policy", and English of course. Thanks a lot, everybody here, you've been doing a great job :)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Could can't be coming be replaced by mustn't be coming in this context? I sort of feel that the former implies something like it's impossible while the latter is closer to that's the way I feel about the situation and I'm pretty sure. (BTW, the first time I saw this kind of usage of must not, I was a bit surprised as I'd never seen it before) Thanks for all your commetns
    Actually, mustn't would not work here, but must not would:
    He must not be coming = It must be that he is not coming. = It has to be that he is not coming. [One must assume he is not coming.]
    He can't be coming = It can't be that he is coming. = It is impossible/implausible that he is coming. [One cannot believe he is coming.]
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Well, I hate to say that, but I've seen mustn't used in this way in grammar books, American English, and I was surprised. But when I asked my brother-in-law, who is American, he told me it was a common thing to say, so I figured it was something that existed, but haven't been able to tell the difference between "he can't be coming" and he must' be coming" so far. Please advise

    Mike, I have a preference for "must not be coming" in Bob's example. It seems to me premature for someone to say with such certainty at 10:00 that Brian won't be coming.
     
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    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    Hi, thanks everybody for the input and for your correction as far as the "short forms" concerned :) I sort of didn't realize that while can't is okay, mustn't is not. I was so focused on the meaning that I didn't pay enough attention to the spelling. Well, haste makes waste. Thanks again
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Do you happen to know if it's AE only?

    I have done some research and found a book that touches on your question.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=p3vDuPNG7nUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=irish+english+history+and+present+day&hl=en&ei=VZSJTcP0HYi30QHRmsjoDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    At the bottom of page 191: In standard forms of English, epistemic must is negated by using can't/cannot, e.g., He can't be from France if he doesn't speak French. A prominent feature of Irish English, which it incidentally shares with forms of Scottish English is the use of epistemic must in the negative. In A Survey of Irish English Usage the test sentence, "He wasn't born here so he mustn't be Scottish," was included to test the acceptance of negative epistemic must. There were twenty-four counties with over fifteen responses. The mean was 70 percent...

    On page 399, there is a brief mention of the use of negative epistemic must in American English.
    -----
    Like Forero, I would use "must not" instead of "mustn't," but in the original example, "mustn't" does not seem to me incorrect. It appears that the Irishmen and Irishwomen did not mind it, either.
     
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    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    Hi, thank you, ribran and everybody else who pitched in. Just a quick question-is the must not vs. mustn't issue caused by the simple fact that when it is used in spoken English with this meaning the not is emphasized, therefore using the contracted form mustn't doesn't make much sense? Thank you :)
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Hi, thank you, ribran and everybody else who pitched in. Just a quick question-is the must not vs. mustn't issue caused by the simple fact that when it is used in spoken English with this meaning the not is emphasized, therefore using the contracted form mustn't doesn't make much sense? Thank you :)

    I usually say, "must not," not "mustn't," in these cases, but I do not place any special emphasis on not.

    Let's say I am with a friend, and we walk by our friend John's house. I see that all the lights are off and John's car is not in the driveway. I say to my friend, "Oh, John must not be home."

    Now, let's take this same situation and change it slightly. My friend says, "Oh, look! John's home! Let's go and knock on the door." To that, I respond, "He can't be inside. All the lights are off and his car isn't in the driveway." I think that "can't be..." is usually a refutation of a specific claim.
     
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    HTOT

    Member
    Chinese
    Quote[ usually say, "must not," not "mustn't," in these cases, but I do not place any special emphasis on not.]Quote
    On the contrary,I think it's good to say "must not", if you want to place some special emphasis on not.
    Or else,what's the difference between must not and mustn't?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I pronounce must not in this context with primary stress on must and secondary stress on not. Without the secondary stress, the not would become n't.

    "... he mustn't be Scottish" sounds funny to me, but I'm not Scottish. :)
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I think I have confused some of you. My pronunciation is similar to that of Forero. I was trying to make clear that the primary stress is not on not.

    That being said, He mustn't be Scottish sounds normal to me. :)
     
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    other context:

    Sometimes in the South (USA). Can't be is used in the same way Won't be is used in your initial statement.

    can't be... could he?
    won't be... will he?
    so, I think one could use can't be if they certify it with the future conditional construction... "could he?"

    In this case, in the form of a question about the future.

    unrelated joke:
    Scarlett... the cat can't be dead. It can't be. oh please tell me it aint.
    It could be, if it didn't have your tongue.

    Mahalo and Aloha
    -Duke
     

    MikeLynn

    Senior Member
    Hi, thank you for your contributions, it's been a great chance for me to learn new things about can't and must not/mustn't. To my surprise, I even managed to find the following examples in Michael Swan's Practical English Usage:
    ...However, must not/mustn't is occasionally used in this sense, especially in American English.
    I haven't heard Molly moving about. She mustn't be awake yet. Her alarm mustn't have gone off.
    (OR... She can't be awake yet. Her alarm can't have gone off.)
     
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