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What is the grammatically correct response to the question "Can you see me?":

"Of course I can, why couldn't I?"

Or

"Of course I can, why wouldn't I?"

To me the second one seems correct, but I can't find a proper grammatical rule for why that is so. Since could is based on the ability of a person to do something it kind of fits the context, but it doesn't sound correct to me. Would, on the other hand, represents willingness rather than ability to do something so it doesn't fit the context, but sounds right.

The only reason to my mind why using would is the correct way is because it is in the form of question and therefore implying a hypothetical situation wherein lies an unknown condition which is the reason why one person would not be able to see the other.

Any advice?

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    "Can you see me?" can mean multiple things: it could literally mean "am I visible to you?" for instance if you're on a video chat. Or it could be asking a doctor, advisor, counsellor or other person if they have time to speak to you in a professional way. The response depends on what you mean.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 21, 2023 at 15:14
  • @StuartF I mean in a literal sense "am I visible to you". Feb 21, 2023 at 18:49
  • @MichaelMunta You should add that in the question for clarity, without needing to read through comments. Feb 22, 2023 at 13:21

2 Answers 2

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This is literally just the difference between 'wouldn't' and 'couldn't'.

The suggested meanings in context would be:

  • why couldn't I? (what external factors could prevent me?)
  • why wouldn't I? (why would I not choose to?)
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Both are correct and both functionally ask the same question.

You need to consider all definitions of would. One of those definitions is (expressing the conditional mood) indicating the consequence of an imagined event or situation. Wouldn't, in your example, expresses the conditional mood.

In your examples wouldn't merely asks, What imagined situation might prevent me from seeing you?

Couldn't asks What things might prevent me from seeing you?

In your example, however, the two words mean the same thing. The asker is not concerned with drawing distinctions between situations and things. The asker merely asks, Why might I not be able to see you? The choice of wouldn't or couldn't is without consequence.

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