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According to the Oxford Grammar Course (Intermediate) book by Swan & Walter, we CAN use Can if we are deciding now what to do in the future. In other cases, we use will be able to.

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I need some help with the questions number 8, 10 and 11 in the first exercise of the page:

  • 8 I'm free at the weekend, so the kids __[can]__ come round.

  • 10 We're busy this week, but we __[can]__ repair it by next Thursday.

  • 11 I __[can]__ pay on Saturday – I promise.

I put can, as indicated here.

My reasons for all three:

  • 8) I think can is correct because the speaker is deciding to allow the kids to come round in the weekend though he is busy.

  • 10) I think can is correct because the speaker is deciding when exactly what to do the next Thursday.

  • 11) I think can is correct because the speaker is deciding (and consequently promising) what to do on Saturday.

But the answer key says these three sentences should have will be able to.


UPDATE: Some serious misunderstandings:

1) The authors know both can and will be able to can be correct in some questions. They are saying in the first line that it is possible to use can for the future if we're deciding now. So as a whole, it means we CAN use can. Actually, They aren't saying we MUST use can if we're deciding now.

2) The goal of the exercise isn't clear for some guys. Read the title of exercise. It asks us to use can if it's possible (= if the mentioned condition is met). So "saying both are possible" sounds like nonsense.

Silly Example: Imagine we only have 2 kinds of drugs. Drug M specifically is designed for men and Drug H is designed generally for all human beings including men and women. So let fill the blank using more accurate drugs!

1- John Smith can use ...... {Preferable Answer: M}.

2- Ada Wong can use ....... {Preferable Answer: H}.

It's clear. Without any doubt Drug H can be used by men (John Smith!) but no anyone choose it as a correct answer. When we have a more specific answer why don't use it? So just behave like this with my questions too.

The authors in the title of the question say exactly this : "Put in Can or Can't if possible; if not, use will(won't) be able to."

So we conclude we are talking about Correct&MoreCorrect, not Correct&Wrong.

After this cheap example, guys, I expect you not to say that we can use both of those modals. Please don't say there isn't a definite answer.

Now anybody can help me know what's the actual answer to these ESL book questions? I'm not talking about a subtle difference between those two modals in real life. The question is clear. If we're deciding now put can there (though will be able to is correct with slightly potential different meaning). So please just focus on the information provided by the author and select the correct one!

  • Good question. I would have used "could" for #8 and #10 and "will be able" for #11. However, the "I promise" lets me tend to "can" in #11. But I'm not a native English speaker. – mic Jul 6 '18 at 8:31
  • @mic You understand me perfectly nice! I hope someone can help. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 8:37
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    Question seems fine, but please can you edit the question to include the text from the photos, and remove the photos? Text in photographs is not searchable which makes this useless for future users trying to find the same information. Questions with images instead of text inevitably get flagged and deleted. – Astralbee Jul 6 '18 at 9:34
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I find both can and will be able to possible in all three cases. The difference (as is usually the case for decisions on tense and aspect in English) is not in the objective events, but in how the speaker is choosing to view the temporal relations. If the speaker chooses will be able to they are making the implication explicit that something will have changed by the time it comes around; but that is their choice, not a requirement on them.

I find the case for will be able to weakest for no. 8: certainly possible, but not what would occur to me.

In the case of no 10, will be able to is implying not that we can fit it in some time between now and next week, but that things will be different for us next week, so we will have time to do it.

Similarly, in No 11, will be able to is emphasising that something is going to change between now and Saturday that will give me the ability to pay; but can is still fine, just less specific.

[Native British English speaker].

  • Your answer really helped me with this kind of questions. Now I look at those questions somehow else. ِYou focused on the quesion and I'm grateful but there's a minor distance between ur answer and what I'm looking for. if you looked at the first line when the author says "we CAN use 'can' if we are deciding now.." so it implies that he knows that both of them are fine. However, he wanna tell us sometimes 'can' CAN be used and the students are supposed to know when it should be and choose 'can' in the following exercise when the needed conditions are met. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 12:37
  • So please let alone those possible correct answers in real life. Michael Swan had some tutorial content and then brought up an exercise. Could you please help me choose the definite answer to those question (In this case he talking about Correct&Preferble, not Corrct&Wrong) as he uses CAN in the first line of the page. So it's clear to see he talked about some condition which 'can' CAN be used too and in the following exercise he wanted us to choose 'can' if it meets the condition (=diciding now) though 'Will be able to' is correct too. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 12:43
  • Question updated. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 13:54
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In all your questions, I would be happy with either "can" or "will be able to". There might be subtle differences in the meaning, but as these sentences are all devoid of any context I don't think anybody can be dogmatic about which is right or wrong.

"Can" means that something is possible - it could be possible now, as well as in the future.

"Will be able" carries certainty that something will be possible in the future. It can infer that something is not possible now but will become so; however without any other context it does not exclude the possibility that something is not possible now.

"I'm free at the weekend so the kids can come round".
"I'm free at the weekend so the kids will be able to come round".

Either of these are fine grammatically, but there is a slight difference in meaning. Because you have already specified you are speaking about the coming weekend it is fairly clear you are speaking about the future, but when you use "can" you are not specifically prohibiting the kids from coming round now. To put it another way, "can" doesn't specify that you mean them to come round on the weekend.

Same goes for your other examples.

"We can repair it on the weekend"

This implies that the only condition to repairing it is the timescale of the weekend.

"We will be able to repair it on the weekend"

This could imply that some other condition makes it only possible to perform the repair on the weekend.

  • Thanks. Your answer really helped me with this kind of questions. Now I look at those questions somehow else. I consider your answer as a general explanation as to the subtle difference between those two. But, it isn't the direct answer which I'm looking for. if you looked at the first line when the author says "we CAN use 'can' if we are deciding now.." so it implies that he knows that both of them are fine. However, he wanna tell us sometimes 'can' CAN be used and the students are supposed to know when it should be and choose 'can' i the following exercise when the needed conditions are met. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 12:28
  • So he bring up that exercise. You may agree with me that as we're talking about a specific ESL book from a leading press it'd better exist a 'definite (preferable) answer to THIS exercises' instead of some conditional answers in general (real life). So briefly I believe that the author says both are possible but can's usage here is restricted to some conditions in comparison with 'will be able to' and The following exercises have one unique answer according to the tutorial content he provided. So please help me choose the more preferable answer of them according to the book provided info. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 12:30
  • @SPed Really, it is very difficult without further context. Take for example the "repair" quotation. They say "they are busy this week". Does that mean they cannot perform the repair until next Thursday? Because they say they can repair it by next Thursday. "By" implies that it will be finished by then, so it could mean they can start repairing it now but it won't be finished until then. If there was no "by" in that sentence I'd say "can" would be correct, but because they are speaking about completing it which is in the future, I'd say "will be able to" is correct. – Astralbee Jul 6 '18 at 12:44
  • Question updated. – S Ped Jul 6 '18 at 13:55

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