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Error correction: They say it (1)can (2)be going to rain so you (3)should take an umbrella or you (4)might get wet.

In this sentence, choose a phrase (1,2,3,4) and change it so that the new sentence is the most correct.

My teacher told me the most correct answer is "They say it could (remove "can") be going to rain so you should take an umbrella or you might get wet." He said I can't write "They say it can rain (remove "be going to rain") so you should take an umbrella or you might get wet." because it would conflict with the context (something about possibility and probability). He didn't explain more and told me to review past lessons. I don't have any clue about this. Can someone explain this to me, please?

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    I don't understand anything from your question. If your answer is related to 1 and 2, why do you have numbers 3 and 4, then? Also can't isn't given as an option in your sentence. The weather forecast says it's going to rain. So, you should take an umbrella with you, or you might get wet. This is correct. This is also correct: They say it can rain, so you should take an umbrella, or you might get wet.
    – Ali E
    Commented Mar 18 at 5:45
  • @AliE Thank you for voicing for concerns, error correction means choosing a part of question (A, B, C, D) that you think is incorrect and fix it. The "fix" means rewrite the sentence in the most correct way, if it's not possible to be absolutely correct. I thought this type of question is common for second language learner so I didn't provide more context, sorry about that. Commented Mar 18 at 6:05
  • Sorry, this is not a common type of question for me. I will write my answer as an "answer", then.
    – Ali E
    Commented Mar 18 at 9:01
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    If you are asked to change one of the four numbered phrases, I would change (1) to could. Your teacher's suggestion of might is OK, but that word already occurs in the sentence. Commented Mar 18 at 9:35
  • @KateBunting Actually he listed some modal verbs can be used, I just happen to write the least appropriate here. Thanks. Commented Mar 18 at 9:58

2 Answers 2

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Your sentence doesn't work because it is talking about whether it is possible for rain to fall, rather than talking about the probability of rain falling. "Can" and "can't" are a binary; either something is able to happen or it is not. The thing is possible, or it is impossible.

The statement "It can rain" means "Rain is able to fall." This is true whether the chance of rain is 0.0000001% or 100%.

They say it can rain so you should take an umbrella or you might get wet.

This sentence means, "They say that rain is able to fall, so you should take an umbrella or you might get wet." This is an odd thing to say because on Earth rain is always able to fall, so, if you followed the advice, you would always have to carry an umbrella.

You might expect to hear the phrase "It can rain here" in a place where it is surprising that rain is possible. For example, you might say, "I'm on Mars, and it can rain here!" to express your surprise that it is possible for rain to fall on Mars. Similarly, "It can rain in this building" would be a useful statement to make because you wouldn't expect rain to be able to fall inside a building.

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  • Thank you for your detailed answer. I was worried that no one will come across my question at this point. However, I think you could have limited your view to the dynamic function of the word "can". Here, the epistemic function of this modal verb might be used to indicate probability of rain. I may have misunderstood the second function so could you correct me, if you please? Commented Mar 19 at 16:11
  • Speaking epistemically with "possible" is actually more accurate in this case, but I was avoiding it because you seem to have a confused understanding of that word. "Can" here is epistemic, but expresses the binary between possible and impossible, where possible encompasses everything from a 100% certainty to a .000001% chance.
    – YonKuma
    Commented Mar 19 at 16:22
  • Thank you so much for your time and dedication. I think I have misunderstood something so I'll try to explain what I learnt from my teacher. The dynamic function of a modal word is to describe the ability/volition of a subject. "Can" has the highest degree of modality among common modal verbs in this function, therefore it express the possibility (a constigency that may happen regardless of probability). The characters limit doesn't allow me to write any longer so I'll make another comment. Commented Mar 19 at 16:42
  • It is because it is "regardless of probability" that "can" is incorrect here. Let us take a day where chance of rain = 100%. "It can rain today" is true. Now let us take a day where chance of rain = 0.000001%. "It can rain today" is true. Because of this, it is not useful for this situation.
    – YonKuma
    Commented Mar 19 at 16:49
  • Continue from where I left off. But modal verb also has epistemic function, which implies someone's logical deduction/observation of an event. Here, "can" has lower degree of modality than "would" but higher than "may". For example, this studies shows new medications can cure cancer. So the sentence in question can talk about a possibility of raining (which can be inferred to be fairly high). That's the basic pattern that modal verbs tend to follow. However, I don't fully understand the nuances and intricacies of English language so I believe my understanding could be wrong or incomplete. Commented Mar 19 at 16:51
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I rephrase the question:

They say it (1) can rain ...

or

They say it (2) BE going to rain ...

be going to is defined in Collins Dictionary:

PHRASE A2 If you say that something is going to happen, you mean that it will happen in the future, usually quite soon [emphasis added].

can is defined in M+W:

can 1 of 5 verb (1) auxiliary verb 1c — > used to indicate possibility

Do you think he can still be alive?

Those things can happen

The immediacy is not in can as opposed to be going to, and hence the latter should be used.

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  • Thank you for your answer. I'd like the explain more that this type of question, error correction, means choosing a part of question (A, B, C, D) that you think is incorrect and fix it. The "fix" means rewrite the sentence in the most correct way, if it's not possible to be absolutely correct. I thought this question is common for non-native english learner so I didn't provide enough clarity, apologise for that. So in this case, the correct answer is A, can->might. But I wonder why B, (be going to rain)->rain is not correct. I hope you have a clearer idea now. Commented Mar 18 at 7:28
  • You were asking which is to be used: (1) can or (2) be going to. The answer is (2) as I've explained. Commented Mar 18 at 8:06
  • Thanks for your prompt reply, I have seen your insightful reply and I wholeheartedly appreciate that you provided sources and neatly organise your answer. I know it might sound chessy and sarcastic from the first glance but from the bottom of my heart, I'm grateful to have someone as knowledgeable and conscientious as you to stumble upon my post. However I can't help but wonder you might have misunderstood something. You seems to slightly misread the question, it's about correcting an error than choosing a phrase in the given sentence. Commented Mar 18 at 8:55
  • I'll be eternally thankful if you can provide a more accurate answers with that in mind. You are the only expert I have ever found to ask about this topic. Commented Mar 18 at 8:56
  • This answer misunderstands the question, and in addition is not good information even aside from that. "They say it be going to rain" is not idiomatic in standard English (though it's acceptable in some dialects), and should not be used by language learners unless they are specifically learning a dialect.
    – YonKuma
    Commented Mar 18 at 16:42

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