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What is the difference between "I can go swimming" and "I can swim"? Are they the same?

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I can swim.

means you have the ability to swim.

I can go swimming.

means you are able to go somewhere to swim. Someone may have given you permission to swim, or you are able to travel somewhere to swim.

Without further context the exact meaning can not be deduced.

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I can swim.

Implies that you're able to swim based on your own abilities, meaning that you're not inhibited from swimming because of something about yourself.

I can go swimming.

Implies that you are able to swim because of other factors not about yourself. This could be that there is a place available to swim in (a lake for example) or that you've been given permission to go swimming (perhaps by a parent).

It's easier to think about from the negative:

  • I can't swim. <- You don't actually know how to swim.
  • I can't go swimming. <- Your parent hasn't given you permission to go swimming.
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They can both indicate the ability to swim, though "I can swim" is probably the better choice for this.

The second example could also be used to indicate permission, for example:

Mom said I can go swimming.

or location:

I can go swimming at the lake.

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