Though it’s cloudy now, it <can><may> get sunny later

lightheart

Senior Member
Sichuan,China-Chinese
Though it’s cloudy now, it ( ) get sunny later.
A. can
B. may

I feel that both are pertinent and suitable for the context, but the given answer goes to only B.
Could you possibly explain it a little bit to me? Thanks!
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Can" tends to be used only in relation to ability or permission, not in relation to probability.

    "Can" can be used for the weather, but it is more in terms of what is possible in general, not in terms of a specific prediction, for example. "It can get hot in the afternoons". You could say that the afternoons have the capability of getting hot.
     

    lightheart

    Senior Member
    Sichuan,China-Chinese
    "Can" tends to be used only in relation to ability or permission, not in relation to probability.

    "Can" can be used for the weather, but it is more in terms of what is possible in general, not in terms of a specific prediction, for example. "It can get hot in the afternoons". You could say that the afternoons have the capability of getting hot.
    But how about the sentences “Even expert driver can make mistakes” and “If it’s raining tomorrow, the sports can take place indoors” (From A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, which clearly states that sometimes, can indicates a future possibility) .
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Are A & B your options or is this part of a test?
    I would suggest C. might
    :thumbsup: We really don't like "may" in modern English, do we?

    However, this could potentially be confusing, because "might" should be contrasted with "could", and "could" is possible here, expressing a doubtful possibility.
     

    elprofe

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    When "can" is used in that type of sentence, as in "It can rain heavily in the summer", it means something along the lines of "in fact, It sometimes rains heavily in the summer". So "can" doesn't express possibility. Rather, "can" points out that a certain event sometimes happens though it may strike some people as surprising.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Though it’s cloudy now, it ( ) get sunny later.
    A. can
    B. may

    I feel that both are pertinent and suitable for the context, but the given answer goes to only B.
    Could you possibly explain it a little bit to me? Thanks!
    Both A and B are viable answers.

    When you talk about modal verbs, you inevitably get involved in modality, which is (simply put) the linguistic expression of possibility and obligation. When it comes to possibility, "can" is used, but in a negative sense. Thus, to express "negative possibility," it's quite natural to say this can't be your car (you don't have any money, so it's not possible for you to buy a car), but "positive possibility" is odd, as in this can be your car (you do have money to buy a car), because modal can isn't used this way. This expression of possibility is known as epistemic modality.

    By contrast, modal can is quite natural, both in a positive and negative sense, when it comes to "obligation" (which also includes notions of "affordances," "necessities," etc.). Thus, you can call me and you can't call me are ok (where "can" and "can't" are equivalent to "may" and "may not"), as well as all this can be yours for only $99 (meaning that if you give me $99, I necessarily must give you "all of this"). This use of can is known as deontic modality.

    There's a third type of modality for can, known as alethic, which deals with "ability." I can lift this car means that I have the ability to do so, while I can't lift this car means that I don't have such ability.

    In your example, we can dismiss alethic modality; there is no "ability" involved when it comes to the weather (weather is the result of various meteorological factors). We are left with epistemic and deontic modalities. If you are just talking about "possibility," it can get sunny later sounds odd, at least to my ears. This is epistemic can, and we don't really use this modal verb in this way. However, what if you are quite familiar with the area, and you know that afternoons always/inevitably become hot? In other words, even if it's cloudy, the sun necessarily heats up the atmosphereas the day goes on. This becomes deontic can, which is ok.

    Bottom line: it can get sunny later is fine, provided you use can in its deontic sense.

    Unfortunately, for students, this is a bad test question.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Though it’s cloudy now, it ( ) get sunny later.
    A. can
    B. may

    I feel that both are pertinent and suitable for the context, but the given answer goes to only B.
    Could you possibly explain it a little bit to me? Thanks!
    I agree with those here who've said that (a) doesn't work: in that sentence as it stands it sounds very odd and I would mark it as wrong.

    The problem as I see it is that while "can" is indeed used to denote something which is generally possible, that usage is effectively ruled out here by the first half of the sentence which states that it (the weather) is cloudy now. So the context, such as it is, indicates that we're referring to one specific occasion.

    You could indeed use "might" or even "could" as viable alternatives to "may" but they presumably weren't options you were offered.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top