In Chinese, we use ‘能’, meaning 'can / could' very often to express euphemistically and avoid 'absolute'. But I read a thesis written by a Chinese, goes that:

this study can give English learners some suggestions to ...., this study can provide various approaches to learn adverbs and...'

I wondered is this expression nature in English writing, using can here, because the way of writing is exactly the same as that in Chinese. And I read very often that native writers would use 'will' instead of 'can'.

Therefore, could you tell me the difference of using 'will' and 'can' in an English thesis that doesn't necessarily have a certain meaning which only makes thesis looking good


Title: 《英语专业大学生中介语作文中副词使用能力的发展》 / A Study on the Developmental Competence of English Majors in Using English Adverbs in Interlanguage Compositions.

The text is from pages 82 and 83.

5.2 Implications and Applications of the Study

The findings of this study have some implications and applications as follows. To begin with, the present study has certain theoretical values. Different from the previous studies on adverbs, this study analyzes the usage of the adverbs based on interlanguage theory, giving comparatively new insight into adverbs research. Moreover, this study may serve as an example for analyzing adverbs in compositions from various perspectives and shed some light on other investigations into linguistic theories which are employed in the studies of adverbs. Besides, from the pedagogical perspective, this study can provide various approaches to learn adverbs and abundant authentic linguistic data for second language English learners. English learners can observe and summarize language use and grammatical rules, ...

Last, this study can give English learners some suggestions to distinguish the linguistic features of the mother tongue and target language in English teaching due to the complexity and diversity of adverbs. In second language writing, English learners tend to depend more on the mother tongue and neglect the second language. Besides, the low proficiency level heavily depends on Chinese when they are in the process of writing and speaking, which can inevitably restrict the lexical diversity. Hence, thinking and writing in English are of vital importance in language learning.

  • 4
    Please provide proper attribution for the text that you quote. That means title, author, and publication, or as many of those as are available. If the source is long, such as a book, please include a page number or other location also. If the source is online, please include a link also. See Marking and Attributing Examples, Sources, and Other Quotes Mar 8, 2023 at 4:34
  • 2
    we need more context to understand how "can" is being used in the example text. The word "can" has several different senses. The example does not look like poor or non-natural English to me, as far as it goes. Mar 8, 2023 at 6:05
  • I have already uploaded the picture of the context. And please forgive me that I don't know the rule of this community very well. And I would not make this mistake next time. Thank you all
    – Narox
    Mar 8, 2023 at 9:26
  • 2
    In future, please do not include images (pictures, scans) of text. They hinder searchability and accessibility. Instead re-type such text or use free online OCR to convert it. I intend to do such a conversion on this question. See ell.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4785/91457 and ell.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5364/… Mar 8, 2023 at 12:16
  • That entire quote is quite unidiomatic: it’s very clear throughout that it was written by a non-native speaker. In some parts, it’s not easy to understand what’s being said; in fact, it feels like nothing at all is said. Several instances of can in the text would best be dispensed with altogether: “The study provides English learners with tools to distinguish…” (whatever it is they’re meant to distinguish – the rest of the sentence makes little sense). Mar 8, 2023 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


What you're describing is hedging, which means that the writer is expressing uncertainty. Sometimes it's necessary to do so, but in other situations it's not appropriate and is used more as a crutch by native and nonnative speakers alike.

For an easy example, consider the sentence "it may rain tomorrow". The weather is temperamental and unpredictable, so we don't know for sure what will happen tomorrow. Therefore, hedging (with "may") is appropriate here. For an example with can, consider "X can cure cancer". This means that there's evidence that X does cure cancer in some cases, but not all.

Now, let's look at your examples.

  • this study can give English learners some suggestions to...
    • Can give suggestions or does give suggestions?
  • this study can provide various approaches to learn adverbs...
    • Can provide approaches or does provide approaches?

In both sentences, I see no reason for hedging. Anyone can see the suggestions and approaches; there is no uncertainty. It would be better to write "this study gives" and "this study provides". There's no real need to use the future tense ("will give", "will provide"), but it's also acceptable.

An aside, "English learners can observe" is fine. This uses "can" in the sense "is able to".

  • Thanks for your answer, You explained well about how we non-native speakers should use 'dose', 'can', and 'will' idomatically in terms of context instead of grammar, which makes the explaination more clear and easy to understand. That REALLY helps me!
    – Narox
    Mar 9, 2023 at 1:44
  • A plausible reason for hedging: the transactional nature of gifts and provisions results in something technically not being given unless it is also taken. While the study makes suggestions and illustrates approaches, if nobody takes up the suggestions or receives (ok, that's yukky, how about 'is receptive to') the approaches, they haven't been given or provided.
    – mcalex
    Mar 9, 2023 at 12:16

First you need to note that "can" has special grammar rules. It is a defective modal verb, so it is not used on its own but always with other verbs, and it doesn't have the full range of tenses.

In terms of meaning, there are three main uses:

  1. Have the ability to do something
  2. Be permitted to do something
  3. Have the potential to do something

It is the third sense that is used in your example. A paraphrase would be "This study has the potential to give English learners..." I don't see it as particularly euphemistic.

Contrast this with "This study will give English learners". This alternative makes a certain prediction about the future. Whereas the "can" form only expresses potential.

I can't really comment on the Chinese, from the dictionary it seems that 能 isn't a verb, but a prefix. Chinese grammar is very different from English.

  • You said exactly what I want to say ,thank you. which is the difference of using can and will. I noticed many native writers use 'will' instead of 'can' in thesises, while few Chinese use 'will' instead of 'can'. And could you tell me, in a thesis, which one is more often used in English without considering the meaning of the sentence (becausae Chinese actually write it with no certain meaning but to plus some good persepctives on this thesis.)
    – Narox
    Mar 8, 2023 at 9:12
  • 2
    It makes no difference whether it's in a thesis or some other text. "X can do Y" expresses less certainty than "X will do Y". Mar 8, 2023 at 9:33

Nothing about this is idiomatic and the idea that it might be will merely distract you.

'… can…' suggests a possibility. In this case - though not in general - '… can…' could be replaced with '… might…'

'… will…' describes a certainty. In this case - though not in general - '… will…' could be replaced with '… must…'

Does that work for you?

  • Thanks for your answer, you help me understand the problem of this thesis. Is that right to conclude in this way: the misuse of can caused distraction which makes this part of thesis not idiomatic
    – Narox
    Mar 9, 2023 at 1:49
  • You're welcome. Sadly, 'the problem of this thesis' will never work, nor will 'that right to conclude in this way.' '… the misuse of can caused distraction which makes this part of thesis not idiomatic' is intelligible, but nothing more. What did your teacher say and by the way, what's your first language, please? Mar 10, 2023 at 2:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .