They are waiting for rain to stop so that they can return to their home.

I want to imply that:

"they are waiting for the rain to stop" make them able to return to their home.

In other words, can "can" be used to imply "become being able to"?

Is the highlighted sentence grammatical? If no, would you help me?

  • 1
    We would usually say "the rain".
    – user3169
    Jun 8, 2016 at 15:45

3 Answers 3


Yes, that construction is grammatical:

They are waiting for the traffic light to turn green so they can cross the street.

they can

means "they have the capability".

so they can

might be understood as referring to a result, and might be paraphrased "so they get the capability", that is, "acquire" versus simple "have".

We could say:

...so that they can then cross the street.

and draw even more attention to the fact that their ability to cross the street is the result of some condition being true.

When the light turns green they become able to cross the street. This last sentence is not how we would say it, however; it is my roundabout way of trying to make clear the sense of "contingent possibility" which is implicit in so (that).

  • Thanks for the answer. In fact, my question stems from my native language which is Persian. We use subjunctive-like structures in such cases very regularly. compare: #1 it isn't important that he can walk. #2 it isn't important that he be able to walk. I think the sentence #1 does mean that we have a solid fact and this fact is he can walk. However, #2 means It is not important whether or not he can walk. thus, I was wondering whether can can be used to imply acquiring a capability or not.
    – Cardinal
    Jun 8, 2016 at 19:37
  • Strictly defined, can always refers to capability. Idiomatically it is often conflated with may, which deals with permission to act or the reasonableness of an act. "Waiting for the rain to stop, so they may return home." implies that they can do so at any time, but are prevented for incidental reasons. Substituting can turns it into the stricter implication they are incapable of leaving while it rains. Of course we swap the two so often, it's difficult to determine which actually applies.
    – Morgen
    Jun 8, 2016 at 19:58
  • @Cardinal: Since you used the word become (become being able) I thought you were asking the question from the point of view of a speaker whose native language is marked for verbal "aspect". Your question is actually this: is there a way of expressing the subjunctive with can as there is with be able? "It is important that he be able... It is important that he ?can? ...."
    – TimR
    Jun 8, 2016 at 20:33
  • @TRomano Yes. In fact, the first title that I chose was about subjunctives using can. But, I was not sure about the correct title. Many thanks for your contribution.
    – Cardinal
    Jun 8, 2016 at 21:03

They are waiting for rain to stop so that they can return to their home.

In this sentence, so that is used before you give an explanation for the action that you have just mentioned

The action is "they are waiting for the rain to stop"

The explanation implies that they cannot go home while it is raining.

can does not imply become being able to: it is simply used as a part of the explanation of their action.

Two suggestions to make the sentence more idiomatic:

They are waiting for the rain to stop so that they can go home.

  • Thanks for the answer. However, I would be happy if you see my comment below the TRomano's answer.
    – Cardinal
    Jun 8, 2016 at 19:38

That really is the meaning of 'can' - to be able to. However, it is often used instead of 'may' in a sentence such as this:

Can I ask a question?

Can I get on the bus?

where the person asking is really asking for permission to perform the stated action, as opposed to being actually capable or performing the action. As a joke, someone may respond to these questions with an answer such as:

Yes, you are capable of asking a question


Yes, simply put one foot in front of another until you are on the bus.

the correct form of these questions are:

May I ask a question?

May I get on the bus?

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