Why can’t the word “can” be used in future tense (will can)?

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I’m curious about why the English word can cannot be used in future tense (e.g. will can).

An example unrelated to English is French term je pourrai, but that’s exactly what I mean.

Compare German ich werde können which translates exactly to I will be able, and literally to I will can, given that können and can have the same origin. I feel that this is confusing.

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    Dec 3 at 23:53

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I’m curious about why the English word can cannot be used in future tense (e.g. will can).

An example unrelated to English is French term je pourrai, but that’s exactly what I mean.

Compare German ich werde können which translates exactly to I will be able, and literally to I will can, given that können and can have the same origin. I feel that this is confusing.

share|improve this question

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 3 at 23:53

up vote
54
down vote

favorite

26

up vote
54
down vote

favorite

26
26

I’m curious about why the English word can cannot be used in future tense (e.g. will can).

An example unrelated to English is French term je pourrai, but that’s exactly what I mean.

Compare German ich werde können which translates exactly to I will be able, and literally to I will can, given that können and can have the same origin. I feel that this is confusing.

share|improve this question

I’m curious about why the English word can cannot be used in future tense (e.g. will can).

An example unrelated to English is French term je pourrai, but that’s exactly what I mean.

Compare German ich werde können which translates exactly to I will be able, and literally to I will can, given that können and can have the same origin. I feel that this is confusing.

word-usage tenses modal-verbs

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edited Nov 29 at 16:22

Janus Bahs Jacquet

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asked Nov 29 at 14:49

iBug

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577614

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    – MetaEd
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    – MetaEd
    Dec 3 at 23:53

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5 Answers
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This is a good example of the problems caused by lying to students in saying that will is “The Future Tense”. There is no future tense in English. There is likewise no perfect tense, no progressive tense, no pluperfect tense, no future perfect tense. There are also no moods or voices. No matter what you’ve been taught. Sorry about that.

What English has is a present tense and a past tense, both managed by suffix or root change (deletes/deleted, drives/drove). That’s it for tenses. There are various constructions like the Perfect construction, the Progressive construction, the Passive construction, etc. All of them take several words and don’t require endings or prefixes, and word order is important.

One of the constructions that occurs in practically every sentence is the Verb Phrase, which usually starts with an auxiliary verb of some sort: some form of be or have for Perfect, Passive, or Progressive, and, at the beginning of the verb phrase, a modal auxiliary verb. When modals occur, they are always at the beginning of the verb phrase, because they only have one form (they are “defective verbs”), and that form is not an infinitive form or a participle form, so it can’t go after be or have as the constructions require.

This results in modal auxiliaries always occurring alone at the beginning of a verb phrase — or inverted with the subject in questions — whenever they occur; and it also has the effect of limiting modals to one per verb phrase, at the beginning.

Why is this relevant to the “future tense”? Because what students are erroneously taught is not that will is one of the modal auxiliaries, and therefore behaves like can, may, must, should, would, could in not appearing together, but rather that will is “The Future Tense”, a different category entirely, which can apply to anything, including uninflectable modal auxiliaries like can. Hence the question.

The answer is that English has special constructions that mean the same as modals, but have infinitive and participle forms, so they can be used in past tense, or in the Perfect or Progressive. These are called Periphrastic Modals, and the one associated with can in the sense you indicate is be able to.

That is, one can’t say

  • *I will/should can do that by next year.

but one can say, with the same intended meaning,

  • I will/should be able to do that by next year.
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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 3 at 19:41

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Per Wikipedia, can is a “defective verb”…

For example, can lacks an infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. The missing parts of speech are instead supplied by using the appropriate forms of to be plus able to. So, while I could write and I was able to write have the same meaning, I could has two meanings depending on use, which are I was able to or I would be able to. One cannot say I will can, which is instead expressed as I will be able to.

As you’ll see from that Wikipedia article, many other languages (including French and German as mentioned by OP) have defective verbs. But there’s no particular reason why they should be the same verbs in different languages, since the reason for their existence at all (natural language variation over time) will depend very much on individual circumstances relating to time, place, meaning, and peculiar factors relating to such things as the social class of different speakers, etc.

share|improve this answer

  • 1

    Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
    – iBug
    Nov 29 at 15:22

  • My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
    – FumbleFingers
    Nov 29 at 15:34

  • 1

    I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
    – 1006a
    Nov 29 at 16:43

  • @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
    – FumbleFingers
    Nov 29 at 17:24

  • 1

    @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
    – FumbleFingers
    Dec 1 at 14:00

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13
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The reason is that standard English prohibits the use of double modals, which ‘can’ and ‘will’ both are, as addressed in this post. Some dialects, like my own, incorporate double modals like ‘might could,’ ‘might should,’ ‘ought to should,’ etc. but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard ‘will can.’

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  • 6

    That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
    – Pere
    Nov 30 at 14:16

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Can is part of the set of verbs called the ‘Preterite-present’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_verb#Preterite-presents). This essentially means that the form can was originally a past tense form which has now taken on a present tense meaning. It betrays its past tense origin in English because it lacks the third person singular s (compare he holds vs he held); other languages offer even more proof (e.g. the vowel shift between Dutch singular kan and plural kunnen).

For reasons unknown to me, English modals did not ‘develop’ new infintival forms. This did happen in Dutch, German, Swedish, … which is why he will can is perfectly possible in those languages (hij zal kunnen/er wird können/han ska kunna). Can as it is now still ‘functions’ as a past tense form and much like how you can’t say he will held, you can’t say he will can. As others have pointed out, this makes the verb defective.

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    For this question that might be a Rhetorical question: The answer is that the future tense of the word can is could. For example: You could accept this answer in the future, if you still can, but you probably can’t for some reason, if you missed the exact time and date that you could have accepted this answer. And also The word Could is used as a future tense of the word can, Could have is used as a past tense of the word can.

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    • 7

      You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
      – Mari-Lou A
      Nov 29 at 20:32

    • 3

      ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
      – chasly from UK
      Nov 29 at 20:50

    • 3

      I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
      – scaaahu
      Nov 30 at 8:19

    • 3

      @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
      – jmbpiano
      Nov 30 at 17:47

    • 5

      @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
      – MetaEd
      Nov 30 at 18:38

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    5 Answers
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    This is a good example of the problems caused by lying to students in saying that will is “The Future Tense”. There is no future tense in English. There is likewise no perfect tense, no progressive tense, no pluperfect tense, no future perfect tense. There are also no moods or voices. No matter what you’ve been taught. Sorry about that.

    What English has is a present tense and a past tense, both managed by suffix or root change (deletes/deleted, drives/drove). That’s it for tenses. There are various constructions like the Perfect construction, the Progressive construction, the Passive construction, etc. All of them take several words and don’t require endings or prefixes, and word order is important.

    One of the constructions that occurs in practically every sentence is the Verb Phrase, which usually starts with an auxiliary verb of some sort: some form of be or have for Perfect, Passive, or Progressive, and, at the beginning of the verb phrase, a modal auxiliary verb. When modals occur, they are always at the beginning of the verb phrase, because they only have one form (they are “defective verbs”), and that form is not an infinitive form or a participle form, so it can’t go after be or have as the constructions require.

    This results in modal auxiliaries always occurring alone at the beginning of a verb phrase — or inverted with the subject in questions — whenever they occur; and it also has the effect of limiting modals to one per verb phrase, at the beginning.

    Why is this relevant to the “future tense”? Because what students are erroneously taught is not that will is one of the modal auxiliaries, and therefore behaves like can, may, must, should, would, could in not appearing together, but rather that will is “The Future Tense”, a different category entirely, which can apply to anything, including uninflectable modal auxiliaries like can. Hence the question.

    The answer is that English has special constructions that mean the same as modals, but have infinitive and participle forms, so they can be used in past tense, or in the Perfect or Progressive. These are called Periphrastic Modals, and the one associated with can in the sense you indicate is be able to.

    That is, one can’t say

    • *I will/should can do that by next year.

    but one can say, with the same intended meaning,

    • I will/should be able to do that by next year.
    share|improve this answer

    • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
      – MetaEd
      Dec 3 at 19:41

    up vote
    88
    down vote

    accepted

    This is a good example of the problems caused by lying to students in saying that will is “The Future Tense”. There is no future tense in English. There is likewise no perfect tense, no progressive tense, no pluperfect tense, no future perfect tense. There are also no moods or voices. No matter what you’ve been taught. Sorry about that.

    What English has is a present tense and a past tense, both managed by suffix or root change (deletes/deleted, drives/drove). That’s it for tenses. There are various constructions like the Perfect construction, the Progressive construction, the Passive construction, etc. All of them take several words and don’t require endings or prefixes, and word order is important.

    One of the constructions that occurs in practically every sentence is the Verb Phrase, which usually starts with an auxiliary verb of some sort: some form of be or have for Perfect, Passive, or Progressive, and, at the beginning of the verb phrase, a modal auxiliary verb. When modals occur, they are always at the beginning of the verb phrase, because they only have one form (they are “defective verbs”), and that form is not an infinitive form or a participle form, so it can’t go after be or have as the constructions require.

    This results in modal auxiliaries always occurring alone at the beginning of a verb phrase — or inverted with the subject in questions — whenever they occur; and it also has the effect of limiting modals to one per verb phrase, at the beginning.

    Why is this relevant to the “future tense”? Because what students are erroneously taught is not that will is one of the modal auxiliaries, and therefore behaves like can, may, must, should, would, could in not appearing together, but rather that will is “The Future Tense”, a different category entirely, which can apply to anything, including uninflectable modal auxiliaries like can. Hence the question.

    The answer is that English has special constructions that mean the same as modals, but have infinitive and participle forms, so they can be used in past tense, or in the Perfect or Progressive. These are called Periphrastic Modals, and the one associated with can in the sense you indicate is be able to.

    That is, one can’t say

    • *I will/should can do that by next year.

    but one can say, with the same intended meaning,

    • I will/should be able to do that by next year.
    share|improve this answer

    • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
      – MetaEd
      Dec 3 at 19:41

    up vote
    88
    down vote

    accepted

    up vote
    88
    down vote

    accepted

    This is a good example of the problems caused by lying to students in saying that will is “The Future Tense”. There is no future tense in English. There is likewise no perfect tense, no progressive tense, no pluperfect tense, no future perfect tense. There are also no moods or voices. No matter what you’ve been taught. Sorry about that.

    What English has is a present tense and a past tense, both managed by suffix or root change (deletes/deleted, drives/drove). That’s it for tenses. There are various constructions like the Perfect construction, the Progressive construction, the Passive construction, etc. All of them take several words and don’t require endings or prefixes, and word order is important.

    One of the constructions that occurs in practically every sentence is the Verb Phrase, which usually starts with an auxiliary verb of some sort: some form of be or have for Perfect, Passive, or Progressive, and, at the beginning of the verb phrase, a modal auxiliary verb. When modals occur, they are always at the beginning of the verb phrase, because they only have one form (they are “defective verbs”), and that form is not an infinitive form or a participle form, so it can’t go after be or have as the constructions require.

    This results in modal auxiliaries always occurring alone at the beginning of a verb phrase — or inverted with the subject in questions — whenever they occur; and it also has the effect of limiting modals to one per verb phrase, at the beginning.

    Why is this relevant to the “future tense”? Because what students are erroneously taught is not that will is one of the modal auxiliaries, and therefore behaves like can, may, must, should, would, could in not appearing together, but rather that will is “The Future Tense”, a different category entirely, which can apply to anything, including uninflectable modal auxiliaries like can. Hence the question.

    The answer is that English has special constructions that mean the same as modals, but have infinitive and participle forms, so they can be used in past tense, or in the Perfect or Progressive. These are called Periphrastic Modals, and the one associated with can in the sense you indicate is be able to.

    That is, one can’t say

    • *I will/should can do that by next year.

    but one can say, with the same intended meaning,

    • I will/should be able to do that by next year.
    share|improve this answer

    This is a good example of the problems caused by lying to students in saying that will is “The Future Tense”. There is no future tense in English. There is likewise no perfect tense, no progressive tense, no pluperfect tense, no future perfect tense. There are also no moods or voices. No matter what you’ve been taught. Sorry about that.

    What English has is a present tense and a past tense, both managed by suffix or root change (deletes/deleted, drives/drove). That’s it for tenses. There are various constructions like the Perfect construction, the Progressive construction, the Passive construction, etc. All of them take several words and don’t require endings or prefixes, and word order is important.

    One of the constructions that occurs in practically every sentence is the Verb Phrase, which usually starts with an auxiliary verb of some sort: some form of be or have for Perfect, Passive, or Progressive, and, at the beginning of the verb phrase, a modal auxiliary verb. When modals occur, they are always at the beginning of the verb phrase, because they only have one form (they are “defective verbs”), and that form is not an infinitive form or a participle form, so it can’t go after be or have as the constructions require.

    This results in modal auxiliaries always occurring alone at the beginning of a verb phrase — or inverted with the subject in questions — whenever they occur; and it also has the effect of limiting modals to one per verb phrase, at the beginning.

    Why is this relevant to the “future tense”? Because what students are erroneously taught is not that will is one of the modal auxiliaries, and therefore behaves like can, may, must, should, would, could in not appearing together, but rather that will is “The Future Tense”, a different category entirely, which can apply to anything, including uninflectable modal auxiliaries like can. Hence the question.

    The answer is that English has special constructions that mean the same as modals, but have infinitive and participle forms, so they can be used in past tense, or in the Perfect or Progressive. These are called Periphrastic Modals, and the one associated with can in the sense you indicate is be able to.

    That is, one can’t say

    • *I will/should can do that by next year.

    but one can say, with the same intended meaning,

    • I will/should be able to do that by next year.
    share|improve this answer

    share|improve this answer

    share|improve this answer

    edited Nov 29 at 16:12

    answered Nov 29 at 16:08

    John Lawler

    83.9k6116327

    83.9k6116327

    • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
      – MetaEd
      Dec 3 at 19:41

    • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
      – MetaEd
      Dec 3 at 19:41

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 3 at 19:41

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 3 at 19:41

    up vote
    21
    down vote

    Per Wikipedia, can is a “defective verb”…

    For example, can lacks an infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. The missing parts of speech are instead supplied by using the appropriate forms of to be plus able to. So, while I could write and I was able to write have the same meaning, I could has two meanings depending on use, which are I was able to or I would be able to. One cannot say I will can, which is instead expressed as I will be able to.

    As you’ll see from that Wikipedia article, many other languages (including French and German as mentioned by OP) have defective verbs. But there’s no particular reason why they should be the same verbs in different languages, since the reason for their existence at all (natural language variation over time) will depend very much on individual circumstances relating to time, place, meaning, and peculiar factors relating to such things as the social class of different speakers, etc.

    share|improve this answer

    • 1

      Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
      – iBug
      Nov 29 at 15:22

    • My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 15:34

    • 1

      I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
      – 1006a
      Nov 29 at 16:43

    • @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 17:24

    • 1

      @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
      – FumbleFingers
      Dec 1 at 14:00

    up vote
    21
    down vote

    Per Wikipedia, can is a “defective verb”…

    For example, can lacks an infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. The missing parts of speech are instead supplied by using the appropriate forms of to be plus able to. So, while I could write and I was able to write have the same meaning, I could has two meanings depending on use, which are I was able to or I would be able to. One cannot say I will can, which is instead expressed as I will be able to.

    As you’ll see from that Wikipedia article, many other languages (including French and German as mentioned by OP) have defective verbs. But there’s no particular reason why they should be the same verbs in different languages, since the reason for their existence at all (natural language variation over time) will depend very much on individual circumstances relating to time, place, meaning, and peculiar factors relating to such things as the social class of different speakers, etc.

    share|improve this answer

    • 1

      Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
      – iBug
      Nov 29 at 15:22

    • My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 15:34

    • 1

      I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
      – 1006a
      Nov 29 at 16:43

    • @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 17:24

    • 1

      @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
      – FumbleFingers
      Dec 1 at 14:00

    up vote
    21
    down vote

    up vote
    21
    down vote

    Per Wikipedia, can is a “defective verb”…

    For example, can lacks an infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. The missing parts of speech are instead supplied by using the appropriate forms of to be plus able to. So, while I could write and I was able to write have the same meaning, I could has two meanings depending on use, which are I was able to or I would be able to. One cannot say I will can, which is instead expressed as I will be able to.

    As you’ll see from that Wikipedia article, many other languages (including French and German as mentioned by OP) have defective verbs. But there’s no particular reason why they should be the same verbs in different languages, since the reason for their existence at all (natural language variation over time) will depend very much on individual circumstances relating to time, place, meaning, and peculiar factors relating to such things as the social class of different speakers, etc.

    share|improve this answer

    Per Wikipedia, can is a “defective verb”…

    For example, can lacks an infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. The missing parts of speech are instead supplied by using the appropriate forms of to be plus able to. So, while I could write and I was able to write have the same meaning, I could has two meanings depending on use, which are I was able to or I would be able to. One cannot say I will can, which is instead expressed as I will be able to.

    As you’ll see from that Wikipedia article, many other languages (including French and German as mentioned by OP) have defective verbs. But there’s no particular reason why they should be the same verbs in different languages, since the reason for their existence at all (natural language variation over time) will depend very much on individual circumstances relating to time, place, meaning, and peculiar factors relating to such things as the social class of different speakers, etc.

    share|improve this answer

    share|improve this answer

    share|improve this answer

    edited Nov 29 at 15:27

    answered Nov 29 at 15:21

    FumbleFingers

    119k32240421

    119k32240421

    • 1

      Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
      – iBug
      Nov 29 at 15:22

    • My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 15:34

    • 1

      I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
      – 1006a
      Nov 29 at 16:43

    • @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 17:24

    • 1

      @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
      – FumbleFingers
      Dec 1 at 14:00

    • 1

      Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
      – iBug
      Nov 29 at 15:22

    • My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 15:34

    • 1

      I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
      – 1006a
      Nov 29 at 16:43

    • @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
      – FumbleFingers
      Nov 29 at 17:24

    • 1

      @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
      – FumbleFingers
      Dec 1 at 14:00

    1

    1

    Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
    – iBug
    Nov 29 at 15:22

    Can you address the question tag (etymology) somehow?
    – iBug
    Nov 29 at 15:22

    My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
    – FumbleFingers
    Nov 29 at 15:34

    My guess is it’s extremely unlikely anyone could say exactly why the specific word can happens to lack the specific forms infinitive, future tense, participle, imperative, and gerund. Not all defective verbs lack the same forms, anyway, but I suppose at least sometimes the etymological background has something in common with other irregular verbs. For example, I don’t hear people saying to be is “defective”, but obviously there must be some kind of reason why Anglophones decided that I be a yokel was to be laughed out of (Norman conqueror) court.
    – FumbleFingers
    Nov 29 at 15:34

    1

    1

    I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
    – 1006a
    Nov 29 at 16:43

    I think the “could” example in there is confusing/unhelpful. Why say those sentences have the same meaning, when the rest of the sentence explains that they don’t always?
    – 1006a
    Nov 29 at 16:43

    @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
    – FumbleFingers
    Nov 29 at 17:24

    @1006a: I suppose the writer thought it might be even more confusing if he’d dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with “I could write and I was able to write could have the same meaning”. But even as “standalone” sentences, they might not – they’d both mean exactly the same in the context of a preceding sentence such as I had one big advantage when I started infant’s school, but not if preceded by I certainly wouldn’t be bored if I had a pen and paper.
    – FumbleFingers
    Nov 29 at 17:24

    1

    1

    @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
    – FumbleFingers
    Dec 1 at 14:00

    @rackandboneman: Another verb that can’t be “named” that way is to must. Interestingly though, although no-one seems to have a problem with using could as both a present and past tense form, the earlier ELU question Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb? suggests that many native speakers are a bit unsure about must as a past form.
    – FumbleFingers
    Dec 1 at 14:00

    up vote
    13
    down vote

    The reason is that standard English prohibits the use of double modals, which ‘can’ and ‘will’ both are, as addressed in this post. Some dialects, like my own, incorporate double modals like ‘might could,’ ‘might should,’ ‘ought to should,’ etc. but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard ‘will can.’

    share|improve this answer

    • 6

      That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
      – Pere
      Nov 30 at 14:16

    up vote
    13
    down vote

    The reason is that standard English prohibits the use of double modals, which ‘can’ and ‘will’ both are, as addressed in this post. Some dialects, like my own, incorporate double modals like ‘might could,’ ‘might should,’ ‘ought to should,’ etc. but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard ‘will can.’

    share|improve this answer

    • 6

      That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
      – Pere
      Nov 30 at 14:16

    up vote
    13
    down vote

    up vote
    13
    down vote

    The reason is that standard English prohibits the use of double modals, which ‘can’ and ‘will’ both are, as addressed in this post. Some dialects, like my own, incorporate double modals like ‘might could,’ ‘might should,’ ‘ought to should,’ etc. but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard ‘will can.’

    share|improve this answer

    The reason is that standard English prohibits the use of double modals, which ‘can’ and ‘will’ both are, as addressed in this post. Some dialects, like my own, incorporate double modals like ‘might could,’ ‘might should,’ ‘ought to should,’ etc. but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard ‘will can.’

    share|improve this answer

    share|improve this answer

    share|improve this answer

    edited Nov 29 at 15:34

    answered Nov 29 at 15:25

    eenbeetje

    3437

    3437

    • 6

      That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
      – Pere
      Nov 30 at 14:16

    • 6

      That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
      – Pere
      Nov 30 at 14:16

    6

    6

    That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
    – Pere
    Nov 30 at 14:16

    That question might be improved by mentioning which dialect is your own.
    – Pere
    Nov 30 at 14:16

    up vote
    9
    down vote

    Can is part of the set of verbs called the ‘Preterite-present’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_verb#Preterite-presents). This essentially means that the form can was originally a past tense form which has now taken on a present tense meaning. It betrays its past tense origin in English because it lacks the third person singular s (compare he holds vs he held); other languages offer even more proof (e.g. the vowel shift between Dutch singular kan and plural kunnen).

    For reasons unknown to me, English modals did not ‘develop’ new infintival forms. This did happen in Dutch, German, Swedish, … which is why he will can is perfectly possible in those languages (hij zal kunnen/er wird können/han ska kunna). Can as it is now still ‘functions’ as a past tense form and much like how you can’t say he will held, you can’t say he will can. As others have pointed out, this makes the verb defective.

    share|improve this answer

      up vote
      9
      down vote

      Can is part of the set of verbs called the ‘Preterite-present’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_verb#Preterite-presents). This essentially means that the form can was originally a past tense form which has now taken on a present tense meaning. It betrays its past tense origin in English because it lacks the third person singular s (compare he holds vs he held); other languages offer even more proof (e.g. the vowel shift between Dutch singular kan and plural kunnen).

      For reasons unknown to me, English modals did not ‘develop’ new infintival forms. This did happen in Dutch, German, Swedish, … which is why he will can is perfectly possible in those languages (hij zal kunnen/er wird können/han ska kunna). Can as it is now still ‘functions’ as a past tense form and much like how you can’t say he will held, you can’t say he will can. As others have pointed out, this makes the verb defective.

      share|improve this answer

        up vote
        9
        down vote

        up vote
        9
        down vote

        Can is part of the set of verbs called the ‘Preterite-present’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_verb#Preterite-presents). This essentially means that the form can was originally a past tense form which has now taken on a present tense meaning. It betrays its past tense origin in English because it lacks the third person singular s (compare he holds vs he held); other languages offer even more proof (e.g. the vowel shift between Dutch singular kan and plural kunnen).

        For reasons unknown to me, English modals did not ‘develop’ new infintival forms. This did happen in Dutch, German, Swedish, … which is why he will can is perfectly possible in those languages (hij zal kunnen/er wird können/han ska kunna). Can as it is now still ‘functions’ as a past tense form and much like how you can’t say he will held, you can’t say he will can. As others have pointed out, this makes the verb defective.

        share|improve this answer

        Can is part of the set of verbs called the ‘Preterite-present’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_verb#Preterite-presents). This essentially means that the form can was originally a past tense form which has now taken on a present tense meaning. It betrays its past tense origin in English because it lacks the third person singular s (compare he holds vs he held); other languages offer even more proof (e.g. the vowel shift between Dutch singular kan and plural kunnen).

        For reasons unknown to me, English modals did not ‘develop’ new infintival forms. This did happen in Dutch, German, Swedish, … which is why he will can is perfectly possible in those languages (hij zal kunnen/er wird können/han ska kunna). Can as it is now still ‘functions’ as a past tense form and much like how you can’t say he will held, you can’t say he will can. As others have pointed out, this makes the verb defective.

        share|improve this answer

        share|improve this answer

        share|improve this answer

        answered Nov 30 at 10:09

        Henri

        911

        911

            up vote
            -8
            down vote

            For this question that might be a Rhetorical question: The answer is that the future tense of the word can is could. For example: You could accept this answer in the future, if you still can, but you probably can’t for some reason, if you missed the exact time and date that you could have accepted this answer. And also The word Could is used as a future tense of the word can, Could have is used as a past tense of the word can.

            share|improve this answer

            • 7

              You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
              – Mari-Lou A
              Nov 29 at 20:32

            • 3

              ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
              – chasly from UK
              Nov 29 at 20:50

            • 3

              I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
              – scaaahu
              Nov 30 at 8:19

            • 3

              @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
              – jmbpiano
              Nov 30 at 17:47

            • 5

              @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
              – MetaEd
              Nov 30 at 18:38

            up vote
            -8
            down vote

            For this question that might be a Rhetorical question: The answer is that the future tense of the word can is could. For example: You could accept this answer in the future, if you still can, but you probably can’t for some reason, if you missed the exact time and date that you could have accepted this answer. And also The word Could is used as a future tense of the word can, Could have is used as a past tense of the word can.

            share|improve this answer

            • 7

              You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
              – Mari-Lou A
              Nov 29 at 20:32

            • 3

              ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
              – chasly from UK
              Nov 29 at 20:50

            • 3

              I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
              – scaaahu
              Nov 30 at 8:19

            • 3

              @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
              – jmbpiano
              Nov 30 at 17:47

            • 5

              @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
              – MetaEd
              Nov 30 at 18:38

            up vote
            -8
            down vote

            up vote
            -8
            down vote

            For this question that might be a Rhetorical question: The answer is that the future tense of the word can is could. For example: You could accept this answer in the future, if you still can, but you probably can’t for some reason, if you missed the exact time and date that you could have accepted this answer. And also The word Could is used as a future tense of the word can, Could have is used as a past tense of the word can.

            share|improve this answer

            For this question that might be a Rhetorical question: The answer is that the future tense of the word can is could. For example: You could accept this answer in the future, if you still can, but you probably can’t for some reason, if you missed the exact time and date that you could have accepted this answer. And also The word Could is used as a future tense of the word can, Could have is used as a past tense of the word can.

            share|improve this answer

            share|improve this answer

            share|improve this answer

            edited Nov 30 at 7:09

            answered Nov 29 at 19:44

            jehovahsays

            852

            852

            • 7

              You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
              – Mari-Lou A
              Nov 29 at 20:32

            • 3

              ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
              – chasly from UK
              Nov 29 at 20:50

            • 3

              I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
              – scaaahu
              Nov 30 at 8:19

            • 3

              @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
              – jmbpiano
              Nov 30 at 17:47

            • 5

              @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
              – MetaEd
              Nov 30 at 18:38

            • 7

              You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
              – Mari-Lou A
              Nov 29 at 20:32

            • 3

              ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
              – chasly from UK
              Nov 29 at 20:50

            • 3

              I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
              – scaaahu
              Nov 30 at 8:19

            • 3

              @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
              – jmbpiano
              Nov 30 at 17:47

            • 5

              @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
              – MetaEd
              Nov 30 at 18:38

            7

            7

            You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
            – Mari-Lou A
            Nov 29 at 20:32

            You cannot say that could is the “future tense” of can, it is misinformation.
            – Mari-Lou A
            Nov 29 at 20:32

            3

            3

            ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
            – chasly from UK
            Nov 29 at 20:50

            ‘could’ is the simple past of ‘can’. In your example it is used to form the conditional.
            – chasly from UK
            Nov 29 at 20:50

            3

            3

            I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
            – scaaahu
            Nov 30 at 8:19

            I raised “Not an answer” flag because a wrong answer is not an answer.
            – scaaahu
            Nov 30 at 8:19

            3

            3

            @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
            – jmbpiano
            Nov 30 at 17:47

            @scaaahu A wrong answer is an answer and flags are not an appropriate response to seeing one. All raising a flag accomplishes is wasting a moderator’s time looking at a post that has already been sunk by downvotes (which, along with comments, are the appropriate response to an answer with incorrect information).
            – jmbpiano
            Nov 30 at 17:47

            5

            5

            @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
            – MetaEd
            Nov 30 at 18:38

            @scaaahu Please do not flag wrong answers for moderator attention. Instead, downvote posts which are not useful, upvote posts which are useful, and optionally use comments to explain your actions.
            – MetaEd
            Nov 30 at 18:38

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