The sentence is:

"Rajen, can you please take her home?"

What does 'can' indicate here? Obligation, Permission or Ability?

I think it must be Ability, but my teacher says it must be Permission, so what do you think it really indicates? Explain.

  • 3
    It's a request, which you can think of as a "watered-down" version of obligation if you like. Or an "upscaled" version of ability (asking if you have not only the ability, but also the will to perform the requested action). Mar 8, 2017 at 18:02
  • @FumbleFingers It was part of a paper, what exactly must be the answer if the options are Ability, Obligation or Permission?
    – Anay Karnik
    Mar 8, 2017 at 18:08
  • 2
    @Anay Karnik: Well, I don't have to sit the paper, so I can afford myself the luxury of saying it's rubbish. I expect the person who set the test is expecting "ability", but I can't for the life of me see how tests like that are supposed to quantify a person's linguistic competence. Nor do I see that it's worth trying to teach English by making such distinctions - they were only ever relevant in the context of learning Latin, where the categorisation affects the morphology of some words. Mar 8, 2017 at 18:15
  • @FumbleFingers Oh yeah, I agree with you. I also don't like how they ask such questions many a times, which really doesn't test or teach anything.
    – Anay Karnik
    Mar 8, 2017 at 18:27
  • 1
    Naming the question a polite request is on target. Literally, Can does ask about ability, so that answer is not wrong. In reality, it implies If you have the ability, please proceed to act on it, to take her home." If I ask if you would like to dance and you say yes, should I go find you a partner -- or was I not already inviting you to dance with me? Mar 8, 2017 at 18:59

1 Answer 1


In informal English, by saying "Rajen, can you please take her home?" the speaker is essentially asking "Rajen, if you are able to take her home, please do so." It's kind of a mix between ability and obligation in terms of how pressured one feels to perform the action.

However, this isn't formally correct. Nobody would call you out on this fact though, except perhaps an English language teacher in the classroom.

You must log in to answer this question.