2

You have to pass a test before you can get a driving licence.
(Essential Grammar in Use)

OALD gives the following meaning for can:

  • (1) used to say that it is possible for somebody/something to do something, or for something to happen
  • (4) used to show that somebody is allowed to do something
  • (10) used to make suggestions

Which one is the meaning of can in the example given by Essential Grammar in Use?

  • 3
    I'd vote for #4, but, in this context, there's some overlap with #1. (That can happen sometimes, when trying to map a usage to a set of dictionary definitions; although the first can in this sentence is a clear-cut #1, as you can see, but the can in as you can see is a blur of Nos 1, 2, and 3.) – J.R. Sep 8 '13 at 11:11
  • 2
    I'd also go with #4. You must pass a test before you are allowed to get a driving licence. – Matt Sep 8 '13 at 11:22
4

When I was a boy in the 1950s the schoolmarms insisted that may must be used for permission (your sense 4) and can must be used only for possibility and ability (your sense 1). But the language had already moved past the schoolmarms, and people everywhere in the English-speaking world used can in both senses.

Today the distinction is maintained only in contexts where permission and possibility are contrasted:

No doubt you can drive at 60 mph in a residential neighborhood, but you may not.

In contexts such as that you provide, there is no contrast between permission and possibility: because the license is issued by a public authority there is no possibility of getting a license unless that authority permits it. Consequently both senses are present in can.

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