You can't/mustn't smoke here

Monica238

Senior Member
Russian
Isn't it possible sometimes to use "can't" instead of "mustn't"? Is the only difference between them that "mustn't" is "stricter"?

1. "You can't/mustn't smoke here."
 
  • kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    We don't use mustn't too much in the U.S. I even got a little confused spelling it. :)

    Other ways would be more common, including:

    - You aren't allowed to smoke here.
    - You can't smoke here.
    - There is no smoking here.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Yes, this is very common in speech. "Can't" is unlikely as a written instruction, though.

    In practice, yes (more forceful might be better).

    If I am not mistaken "cannot" isn't used in questions, is it?

    As in "Cannot you speak English?" Instead of "Can't you speak English?"
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I thought such forms are old-fashioned and formal in modern English. Such forms as "are you not?" "Does she not?" "Will she not"? etc.
    Yes, but if you want to avoid contracted verb forms like "can't you?" that's the only way to go. The full forms are unlikely to be used in speech, but it isn't out of the question.

    Did your husband not ask for a divorce before he attempted to strangle you?
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Yes, but if you want to avoid contracted verb forms like "can't you?" that's the only way to go. The full forms are unlikely to be used in speech, but it isn't out of the question.

    Did your husband not ask for a divorce before he attempted to strangle you?

    Sorry, what do you mean by "The full forms are unlikely to be used in speech, but it isn't out of the question"?
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Can...not is the full form.
    Can't is a contracted form.

    "It isn't out of the question" means that it is a possibility.
    [/QUOTE

    Thus, if I don't want to use "can't"
    Can...not is the full form.
    Can't is a contracted form.

    "It isn't out of the question" means that it is a possibility.



    Thus, if I don't want to use "can't" the only form I can use in questions is "can ... not". As in "Can you not speak English"? They are unlikely but possible in speech. Do I understand correctly?
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Can...not is the full form.
    Can't is a contracted form.

    "It isn't out of the question" means that it is a possibility.

    Thus, if I don't want to use "can't" the only form I can use in questions is "can ... not". As in "Can you not speak English"? They are unlikely but possible in speech. Do I understand correctly?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thus, if I don't want to use "can't" the only form I can use in questions is "can ... not". As in "Can you not speak English"? They are unlikely but possible in speech. Do I understand correctly?
    "Can you not speak English?" would most likely be used in modern English to convey a different meaning from "Can't you speak English?" Or, rather, it would be used to convey a specific meaning, whereas "Can't you speak English?" has a more general use.

    "Can't you speak English?" is the obvious question for asking whether a person is able to speak English, where the speaker also wants to express surprise or doubt that the other person does not speak English. It might also be used to express frustration that the other people are not speaking English, where the speaker (the person asking the question) knows that the other people are able to speak English.

    "Can you not speak English?" might be used for this second meaning (the other people can speak English, and the speaker is frustrated that they aren't), but it is unlikely to be used for the first meaning (asking whether a person is able to speak English).
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "Can you not speak English?" would most likely be used in modern English to convey a different meaning from "Can't you speak English?" Or, rather, it would be used to convey a specific meaning, whereas "Can't you speak English?" has a more general use.

    "Can't you speak English?" is the obvious question for asking whether a person is able to speak English, where the speaker also wants to express surprise or doubt that the other person does not speak English. It might also be used to express frustration that the other people are not speaking English, where the speaker (the person asking the question) knows that the other people are able to speak English.

    "Can you not speak English?" might be used for this second meaning (the other people can speak English, and the speaker is frustrated that they aren't), but it is unlikely to be used for the first meaning (asking whether a person is able to speak English).


    So the meaning of "can you not?" can be different. It can express, surprise, frustrstion, perhaps irony too, right?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    So the meaning of "can you not?" can be different. It can express, surprise, frustrstion, perhaps irony too, right?
    The form [modal or auxiliary] [subject] [not] [verb]...? is unusual in modern English, where the usual wording is to use the contracted form of the negative modal or auxiliary verb. What sometimes happens when there is more than one way of saying something, one common and the other unusual, and has happened with some uses of "Can you not...?", is that the unusual word order takes on a particular meaning. In the case of "Can you not...?", this meaning is included within the range of possible meanings of "Can't you...?", but it might be difficult with "Can't you...?" for the listener to tell whether the meaning is "are you able?", an expression of incredulity, or a request not to do the thing. Using "Can you not...?" helps make the meaning clearer.

    There are all sorts of caveats. Firstly, "Can you not...?" can mean everything that "Can't you...?" can mean, so it is possible (albeit unlikely) that the speaker is asking "are you able?". Secondly, this use of "Can you not...?" only applies to a limited number of situations: ones where a person might complain about what the other person is doing. For example, "Can you not ride a bicycle?" would in almost every situation be taken as an expression of surprise that someone can't ride a bicycle, not a complaint that they aren't riding one.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    The form [modal or auxiliary] [subject] [not] [verb]...? is unusual in modern English, where the usual wording is to use the contracted form of the negative modal or auxiliary verb. What sometimes happens when there is more than one way of saying something, one common and the other unusual, and has happened with some uses of "Can you not...?", is that the unusual word order takes on a particular meaning. In the case of "Can you not...?", this meaning is included within the range of possible meanings of "Can't you...?", but it might be difficult with "Can't you...?" for the listener to tell whether the meaning is "are you able?", an expression of incredulity, or a request not to do the thing. Using "Can you not...?" helps make the meaning clearer.

    There are all sorts of caveats. Firstly, "Can you not...?" can mean everything that "Can't you...?" can mean, so it is possible (albeit unlikely) that the speaker is asking "are you able?". Secondly, this use of "Can you not...?" only applies to a limited number of situations: ones where a person might complain about what the other person is doing. For example, "Can you not ride a bicycle?" would in almost every situation be taken as an expression of surprise that someone can't ride a bicycle, not a complaint that they aren't riding one.
    Sorry, do you mean "can't you speak English?" is asking whether a person is able to speak English or does it express frustration, doubt, surprise? Or can it be both asking whether a person can speak English and at the same time express frustration, doubt, surprise?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Sorry, do you mean "can't you speak English?" is asking whether a person is able to speak English or does it express frustration, doubt, surprise? Or can it be both asking whether a person can speak English and at the same time express frustration, doubt, surprise?
    It can have all of these meanings.

    It is worth pointing out that we do not usually use negative verbs for asking yes/no questions. Use of a negative verb always implies something in addition to the question itself, often to the extent that the literal question almost ceases to exist. In any case, the speaker usually knows the answer.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It can have all of these meanings.

    It is worth pointing out that we do not usually use negative verbs for asking yes/no questions. Use of a negative verb always implies something in addition to the question itself, often to the extent that the literal question almost ceases to exist. In any case, the speaker usually knows the answer.
    That's very interesting. Thank you. Is it the same with other questions? For example, does the same apply to "don't you speak English?" and "do you not speak English"? Using your words, can the same be said about them? Can "do you not" mean everything that "don't you means but the unusual word order in "do you not" can also have a special meaning(surprise, frustration, etc)?
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I cannot think of any distinction in meaning between "don't you...?" and "do you not..?". "Do you not...?" is not used for requests.

    If such word order is unusual, formal, old-fashioned and can be used for emphasis in modern English, were they once acceptable and usual in English?

    I mean these ones:

    "Is she not?", "Will you not?", "Does she not?", "Has she not a dog?" "Has she not arrived?"
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If such word order is unusual, formal, old-fashioned and can be used for emphasis in modern English, were they once acceptable and usual in English?

    I mean these ones:

    "Is she not?", "Will you not?", "Does she not?", "Has she not a dog?" "Has she not arrived?"
    They are formal, but some people like formality, and it's appropriate on certain occasions.

    Whatever gave you the impression that they are unusual?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Quite honestly, I think it is difficult to say. Contractions were unusual in writing until well into the twentieth century, and expressions like "is she not" are still common enough in writing, but I have no idea whether anyone actually spoke like this in everyday use.

    "Can" can pose problems though, and although se16teddy in post #9 says Jane Austen used "cannot", I expect that other writers may have avoided using "can" altogether.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    They are formal, but some people like formality, and it's appropriate on certain occasions.

    Whatever gave you the impression that they are unusual?

    I was asking if people actually spoke like this in everyday use and used "Is she not?", "Does she not?", "Will she not?", etc. You said they are formal? Why are they formal in modern English? Does this mean they used to be common but became old-fashioned in time? Especially if in modern English they are used in certain occasions.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "Is she not?", "Will you not?", "Does she not?", "Has she not a dog?" "Has she not arrived?"[...]
    These are not directly comparable.

    I'd regard four as entirely normal and the fifth (Has she not a dog?) out of the question.

    We could say "Has she not got a dog?"
    Why are they formal in modern English? Does this mean they used to be common but became old-fashioned in time? Especially if in modern English they are used in certain occasions.
    You should consult the ngrams for answers to these questions: Google Books Ngram Viewer
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    We use ngrams to find out how expressions have altered in popularity over the years, and this was one of the aspects you were asking about.

    I know they have altered. But before they became formal in modern English they perhaps used to be common. As in modern English they are used in certain occasions.
     
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