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Let's say John is out of the country for a holiday. Then, Martha is claiming that she saw John this morning to Paul. Then Paul said:

It can't have been John you saw this morning, he's out of the country for a holiday.

Vs.

It couldn't be John you saw this morning, he's out of the country for a holiday. (My construction)

Are they both grammatical and the same in context?

1 Answer 1

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They're both grammatically correct. A semicolon would be more correct between the two independent clauses in each example.

There's a subtle difference in meaning between the two.

  • can't have been is definitive. You are sure that John is out of the country.
  • couldn't be introduces some doubt. You certainly believe John is out of the country, but perhaps he snuck back in.

Check out this answer on can't vs. couldn't for more.

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