Can indicates certainty regarding the future:

I can see [=I will see] you tomorrow – what time shall we meet?

Page 85, A. Wallwork, English for Research: Usage, Style, and Grammar

Is Wallwork right about making this point? I feel there is still uncertainty in this example. That equals sign sounds a bit iffy to me.

  • 2
    I don't have access to the full context, but it seems pretty obvious that either you've badly misunderstood something, or your example sentence is in some highly contrived context where can really does convey some sense of certainty (usually it only conveys capability, possibility). There is an implied "certainty" if you say something like "Obviously, I can see what you mean", but that's not the context being discussed here. Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 18:17
  • The context is no context in the book. That's why I feel confused. @FumbleFingers
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 0:45
  • I agree with @FF that the example sentence calls for more context (I understand there isn't any; that's a failing of the book, not this question). It looks like this is an answer to a question along the lines of "you're available tomorrow, right?" Asking for confirmation of ability is the only way I can think of for can to indicate certainty here. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 1:21
  • @Esoteric: It's just dawned on me. OP assumes [=I will see] implies certainty. But in this context it's actually more like "I am willing to see you tomorrow" - a (slightly pushy) "offer". Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 2:35
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    There is definitely more context. Searching the web, I found the example on Google Books here. The section 12.1 is about "present and future ability and possibility: can versus may". It's better to read [= I will see] as a paraphrase or a hint that is used to make the contrast, not for replacing one with another. (Although I will see you tomorrow can be used to propose an arrangement and/or an appointment and/or a meeting, in much a similar way to I can see you tomorrow.) Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 3:10

2 Answers 2


"can" doesn't indicate certainty, it indicates possibility.

I have nothing on my calendar, so I can see you tomorrow. Let me know if that works.

"will" can be used as a tentative suggestion/question to confirm plans:

I'll see you tomorrow? (Is that the plan? Will you be around?)

Will I see you tomorrow? (Will you still be in town? Are you working tomorrow?)

Remember that "will" is the preferred future form for proposing or offering to do something:

Thanks for inviting me to your party. I'll bring the wine. (=that's my contribution)

I'll tell you my ideas and you give me your impression. (=what do you think?)

If you'll teach me Russian, I'll teach you English. (proposal of mutual help)

The negative is "won't":

I won't tell him. (don't worry - it'll be our secret)

If you don't teach me Russian, I won't teach you English (=I withdraw my offer)

"going to" is the preferred future form for plans and planned events, intentions:

I'm going to tell him (=I decided he needs to know)

I'm going to see you tomorrow. (it's inevitable - we work together)

Am I going to see you tomorrow. (will you show up as planned?)

I'm going to teach you English this year. (I've decided this is the year!)


A substitution like this should come with a footnote, because this suggested alternative is only useful for understanding the sentence - the alternative itself is an unacceptable direct substitute, especially in context.

It works in context because the speaker is, first, clearly responding to an inquiry for a meeting, second, indicating that he is available for a meeting (I can see you tomorrow), and third, arranging a time for the meeting (what time shall we meet?).

However, the use of "will" instead of "can" changes, if you will, the tone of the sentence.

For instance, if one is asked by his superior about his availability for a meeting, "I can see you tomorrow." would be fine, but "I will see you tomorrow." would not be appropriate to the situation.

"I will see you tomorrow (at <time>)." can moreover be used as a statement of confirmation, once discussion of scheduling arrangements have finished (an e-mail exchange might go as follows: "Hey, we need to review the materials for tomorrow's afternoon presentation. Does 9 a.m. work for you?" "No, I've got a teleconference then - how about 10 (a.m.)?" "Meeting the new client over brunch. What about 7 a.m.?" "Ugh, you know I hate getting in early. But fine." "Great - I'll see you tomorrow at 7 a.m. then.")

It can, however, also be used as a command, which obviously, is generally only appropriate coming from one's superior - "We need to talk. I'll see you tomorrow in my office at 8."

  • ""I will see you tomorrow." would be unacceptable in such a situation, because of how closely it resembles a command" I disagree. It's neither a command nor unacceptable. "Can you come to my office first thing in the morning?" "Yes, I will see you tomorrow." is a perfectly reasonable and appropriate exchange, even if the first party is the second's superior. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 1:17
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    Thanks for the clarification; I've correspondingly cleaned that part up.
    – Pockets
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 2:24

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