1

Consider this definition for "could", from https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/could

Definition 16: You say 'I couldn't' to refuse an offer of more food or drink. [informal, spoken]

a) More cake?'—'Oh no, I couldn't.'

My question: What is the difference between sentence a) and sentence b)?

b) More cake?'—'Oh no, I can't.'

My comment: To me, sentence a) is conditional: "(If you gave me one more piece of the cake), I couldn't (finish it)." Do you agree with me?

2

Oddly enough, "I couldn't" is polite middle-class British English which effectively means:

"Yes please, but I don't want to sound greedy so I'm going to pretend to refuse it and expect you to generously (and of course politely) insist, after a few rounds of which I am then going to graciously accept with all the language of deferential reluctance."

On such song-and-dance routines are the manners of Britain constructed.

"I can't", on the other hand, is actually a refusal, and at this point the host won't push it, understanding that OP really has had enough and does not want it. In fact, "I can't" is pushing the boundaries of good manners.

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  • On such song-and-dance routines are the manners of Britain constructed. Ha Ha – Mr. X Jun 8 at 17:22

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