SOURCE    (Glee fan fiction)

"I can't be having this conversation with you."

The above form of sentence is new to me. Can somebody help me on that? I understand the meaning, it means the conversation can't go on. What I don't understand is the format.

There are some sentences. Which of these are right?

  1. I can't be having this walk with you.
  2. I can't be having walk with you.
  3. I can't be having walk.
  4. I can't be have this walk with you.
  5. I can't have this walk with you.
  6. I can have a drink with you.

Can you give me some examples like these.

  • Where did you get the first sentence? As fas as I know English, it is not normal to use the verb "have" in the Continuous form (the gerund is OK, but not the verb). Here I can't be having it is exactly in the Continuous form. It is derived from "I'm having this conversation". This is strange, are you sure it comes from a trustworthy source?
    – d.k
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 15:31
  • yea the sentence is correct with best of my knowledge. Because I found it in a book. Let me define the context in which it was used. Someone elder among relatives was asking to a girl that whether she is in a relationship or not and the girl said the line "I can't be having this conversation with you" Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 17:38

3 Answers 3


This is more about context/meaning than grammar/construction.

"I can't be having this conversation with you." implies something I shouldn't or don't want to be talking about with you.

example: “I can't be having this conversation with you,” he cut her off gently. “Obviously, you understand, discussing my patients' medical conditions would be a breach of ...http://www.mishpacha.com/Browse/Article/6567/Veiled-Plans


Your sentences use the modal auxiliary verb can (or its negative form can't or cannot). The only form of a verb that can be used after a modal verb is the bare infinitive. Notice my use of be used after can in my previous sentence. Be is the bare infinitive of to be. And used is the so-called past participle of to use.

As for your first sentence, we also see the bare infinitive be after the modal verb can (in its negative form can't). And after be you find the so-called present participle having. Here having actually does refer to present time. This is because it draws its "tense" from the tense of the finite verb of the verb phrase it is in, and here that verb is the present tense can.

Can can express at least three things: possibility, ability, and permission. In your sentence, it most likely expresses possibility or ability, so paraphrases of your sentence include

It's not possible for me to have this conversation with you.


I don't have the ability to have this conversation with you.

Which of those two meanings is the actual one depends on the context in which it is stated. Note that your sentence can also express exasperation or frustration on the part of the speaker.

Your sentences 2 and 3 are ungrammatical because the count noun walk requires a determinative before it, such as the article a or the demonstrative pronoun this, which you've used in your other sentences. Sentence 4 is ungrammatical because after be you need to use a participle, such as having.

Sentence 3 (I can't be having a walk) is a possible example of can't expressing permission, or–with can't–the lack of permission:

I'm not allowed to have a walk.

Let's look at Sentence 6

I can have a drink with you.

First, notice the bare infinitive have after the modal can. The sentence can mean any of the following, depending on the context:

It's possible for me to have a drink with you.

I have the ability to have a drink with you.

I have permission to have a drink with you.


Your six supplementary sentences aren't really related to the expression you're asking about. "be having" implies that the activity is already underway. "Can't" in this case can have two meanings.

Erin-Kate Sousa's answer gives a great example of one of the meanings. The speaker wants to stop it because they should not do it.

The other usage is establishing an understanding of the need for "plausible deniability"; saying in advance, "We never had this conversation."

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