Water can/may still get in

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rightnow

Senior Member
Spanish
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language , page 184, reads
May is virtually excluded instead of can in water can still get in, partly by the likelihood of it being interpreted epistemically rather than dynamically.
However, I cannot grasp any different effective meaning between both versions.
 
  • Dryan

    Senior Member
    English - Northeastern U.S.
    In a flood, water may still get in. (some water could pass through)
    In a flood, water can still get in. (all the water will pass through)

    water may still get in implies a smaller amount of water in a flood than water can still get in
     
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    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I don't see much difference in the meaning of "can" and "may" in that sentence either, rightnow. I suppose the book's point is that "may" often implies permission to do something and "can" often implies the ability to do something.

    I don't consider the sentence "Water may still get in" to be something that a speaker should reject because it sounds absurd or confusing. Apparently, whoever wrote that advice in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language holds a different opinion.

    cross-posted with Dryan
     

    Dryan

    Senior Member
    English - Northeastern U.S.
    Thanks. Secondly, do native speakers really keep this difference in mind when speaking?
    I generally do. I interpreted it the same as the dictionary prescribed.

    "In a storm, water can get in despite the barriers" - The barriers can't stop the water.
    "In a storm, water may get in despite the barriers" - The barriers might not stop the water.
     
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    rightnow

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I generally do. I interpreted it the same as the dictionary prescribed.

    "In a storm, water can get in despite the barriers" - The barriers can't stop the water.
    "In a storm, water may get in despite the barriers" - The barriers might not stop the water.
    But that answer is not consistent with your previous one

    In a flood, water may still get in. (some water could pass through)
    In a flood, water can still get in. (all the water will pass through)
    In the latter another factor plays its part, namely quantity.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    1. In a flood, water may still get in. -> In a flood, water will possibly still get in.
    2a. In a flood, water can still get in. -> In a flood, water is still able to get in.
    2b. In a flood, water can still get in. -> In a flood, it is possible that water is still able to get in.

    2a would be in a tested situation; 2b would be in an untested situation..

    2a. "You said that the work you did would stop all water: it doesn't. In a flood, water can still get in. Look! The carpet is soaked!"
    2b. "I have done my best, but nothing is going to stop the water for certain: In a flood, water can still get in."
     
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    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The difference is not the quantity 'all' (which I'm sure Dryan will agree with). It's more like the certainty. If you put this thing in water, it is not watertight, so water will get in. It has a hole in it, so water can get in. But this other thing has no holes in it, so possibly it's watertight, but possibly it's porous and water will still get in. I'm not sure: water may get in.
     

    Kolridg

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I've got a similar question, though not about a water, but about people.

    1) The problem is that she can still tell this to investigator despite the promise not to do this.

    2) The problem is that she may still tell this to investigator despite the promise not to do this.

    I guess sentence number one implies that she is still able to tell some revealing information to investigator despite her promise, and speaker has a fear about this ability of her, that it can turn into real action in case she decides to do so. And sentence number two suggests that she is not only able to do this, but and she will possibly do this. To sum up, the sentence number two (with "may") gives more chance that she will still tell this to investigator.

    I hope I'm correct?
     

    Kolridg

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Isn't it curious that in these sentences "can" works differently?
    "In a storm, water can get in despite the barriers" - The barriers can't stop the water.
    If storm hits, in a panic, they can swim across the river despite a promise to wait for the rescue team. - They are able to break their promise.

    As far as I see, it is so because different types of objects are involved - people with their quality to take decisions, and water with its quality to flow over barriers if its level gets higher them.
     
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