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can vs. could Options
ahmetwrt
Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 9:21:04 PM

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The grammars tell us to change "can" to "could" in reported speech.

But if we change the modal in a sentence like:

"You can't smoke here!"
Then it is:
"He told me that I couldn't smoke here/there," which seems odd -even to my non-native ears.

Since the modal "could" has nothing to do with "prohibition" -unlike "can't" above-, the reported version should be:

"He told me that I can't smoke here/there," or any sentence conveying the same meaning, like "... I am not/wasn't allowed to ..." or "... it is/was forbidden to ...," etc.

Am I thinking correctly?


GeorgeV
Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2011 10:23:50 PM
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ahmetwrt wrote:
seems odd -even to my non-native ears.


It is especially non-native ears that find foreign (in this case English) expressions/phrases/constructions "odd". One has to live in that "odd" environment for some time to hear certain expressions daily to realize that it is the right/acceptible way to express oneself.

I had 3 years of private E. classes before I, by chance, ended up in Canada. Those 3 years (behind the Iron Curtain) did not prepair me for everyday, "odd" expressions I encountered.

Have you heard "Good for you"? What do you make out of it?

For me it meant "That's nice, but now shut up". In reality it's just a sincere acknowledgement of your achievement - nothing negative attached to it.

I spent 20 years in Ontario before a stint in B. C. That's when I heard "not a whole lot" for the first time - therefore I found it "odd", thought it was a peculiar West Coast linguistic feature. The next time I heard it back in Ontario, it was a familiar phrase, and did not find it "odd" any more.

After 40+ years in this E. environment I can say my ears have grown partially native, but
I leave the "can-could" problem for discussion to persons with full-grown native ears.
thar
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 5:45:47 AM

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No, he told me I can't smoke here, sounds like direct speech
he told me "I can't smoke here".

reported speech would change this
He told me I couldn't smoke here.

could has several meanings

it is a less certain level than can:
I can come tomorrow = I am able
I could come tomorrow = it is a possible choice

also it is the past
I can whistle
when I was young I could whistle

it is thus used in reported speech
he said " you can smoke"
he said I could smoke
he said " you can't smoke here"
he said I couldn't smoke here.

it can mean both permission and ability
he said "you may smoke"
he said I could smoke
He said "I am a qualfied tank driver"
He said he could drive a tank.

so, it might sound odd, but next time you hear it from a good source, you will see it is that way.

Modals are a screwed up, trouble-making set, they require adjustments to fit into the bigger grammar picure. It just is!
jmacann
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 6:29:12 AM
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Having to make up for missing parts gets in the way somehow, even if patterns follow suit.
NancyUK
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 7:18:22 AM
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On a bit of a side issue, you would use here if you were in the place where you were told you couldn't smoke, (e.g. "last time I came to this cafeteria, he told me I couldn't smoke here" and there if you were reporting the conversation from somewhere else (e.g. "when I went to the cafeteria at work, he told me I couldn't smoke there").
Mansoor Nasir
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 10:46:39 AM
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Thar says:
it can mean both permission and ability
he said "you may smoke"
he said I could smoke
He said "I am a qualfied tank driver"
He said he could drive a tank.

Is it not better to change these sentences in the following way?

he said "you may smoke"
he said I might smoke
He said "I am a qualfied tank driver"
He said he was a qualified tank driver.

thar
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:44:10 AM

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Mansoor Nasir wrote:
Thar says:
it can mean both permission and ability
he said "you may smoke"
he said I could smoke
He said "I am a qualfied tank driver"
He said he could drive a tank.

Is it not better to change these sentences in the following way?

he said "you may smoke"
he said I might smoke
He said "I am a qualfied tank driver"
He said he was a qualified tank driver.

yes, you are right - I was just showing the two possible uses of could, without using 'can' in both. I was just emphasising the difference by using unambiguous words. You would normally, as you said, just use the reported speech for may (might - another modal teenager) and is/was.

Chhokri
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 4:44:52 PM
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On the topic of "can vs. could", my ESL teacher taught us that "can you please pass me the pen" is wrong/rude. We should be using "COULD you please pass me the pen". When asked for the reason, she just said "that's how it is supposed to be. It might not be grammatically wrong, but its not acceptable".
Spending few years in this country, I have heard a lot of people use "can you please", even in formal communication. That includes my boss, who is generally very particular about his language and pronunciations.
What are you views?
Jyrkkä Jätkä
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 5:08:12 PM

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Can and could, in most situations, are both today considered polite.
"Can I have a cup of coffee, please?" or
"Could I have a cup of coffee, please?"

both sound the same.

Julya
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 5:39:21 PM
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He reminded me that I couldn't swim . "oh, he is right" i thought, because i really never swam earlier and i would be able to drown.
thar
Posted: Saturday, August 13, 2011 4:22:16 AM

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can on its own is rude, it is softened a bit with a please, but it still may grate. Could is much more polite.

can you open the door = rude
can you open the door, please = a bit pushy and impolite
could you open the door = short and to the point, but not actually rude
could you open the door, please = polite.

can may be becoming more common, but I think it still comes across as crude, rude, or agressive to the ear of many native speakers!
Julya
Posted: Saturday, August 13, 2011 4:49:25 AM
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ahmetwrt wrote:
"He told me that I couldn't smoke here/there," IT"S CORRECT!

"He told me that I can't smoke here/there," IT'S WRONG!.

or any sentence conveying the same meaning, like "... I am not/wasn't allowed to ..." or "... it is/was forbidden to ...," etc. IT'S correct.

Am I thinking correctly? Almost:-)


MrH
Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2011 9:02:16 PM
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Please, for the moment, humor me.

If I were to drop a pencil upon the floor... follow me?

I could pick it up, assuming I was physically able to.

Can the pencil be returned to my pocket, without my assistance?

No it can't.

Thank you.
Romany
Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2011 10:42:29 PM
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Location: Brighton, England, United Kingdom
I know its difficult for L2 speakers when they are told something is not correct, or polite, and then they hear native speakers saying it. However, just because many people say it, stick to your guns.

There is a lot of really bad English out there, and many different kinds of people with different levels of education. They may ALL use words in a particular way - its not necessarily the correct way.

I completely endorse Thar's post above: whether many people say it or not, "could" - as he pointed out - is the correct form. "Can", in those instances is not.
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