the worst that < can /could > happen

Simplicity

Senior Member
Chinese
A patient goes to see a doctor.

Doctor: Your case is very serious.

Patient:
1. What will be the worst that can happen to me?
2. What will be the worst that could happen to me?

Can I use can here?

Thanks.
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    We wouldn’t use will for that. In fact, we’d almost certainly not phrase it that way at all, since it sounds so much like the usually humorous idiom “What’s the worst that can happen?”.

    What’s the best outcome I can hope for?​
    What’s the worst outcome I could expect?​
    What’s the worst-case scenario?​
     

    Simplicity

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    What’s the best outcome I can hope for?
    What’s the worst outcome I could expect?

    In these two examples, what's the difference between the use of can and could?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I’m not sure. :D But that’s what I intuitively put, so I thought I’d leave it like that.

    I think, as much as anything, it’s a case of wanting the good news to sound positive (can hope for the best) and the bad news to sound less likely (could expect the worst).
     

    User With No Name

    Senior Member
    English - U.S. (Texas)
    I think that while "can" and "could" obviously have different meanings in some contexts, it is often the case (like here) that "could" implies greater emotional distance from the possibility. I don't think there is really much concrete, definable difference in meaning in sentences like this.
     
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