1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Could you or can you

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcusl, Sep 30, 2009.

    When people ask for a favor, they will often say something like:

    "Could you take out the trash for me?"

    Is this correct? Or should it be:

    "Can you take out the trash for me?"

    I hear the former quite often, and I'm wondering why past tense is used, even though the speaker is referring to a future action.

    Many thanks.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    "Could you take out the trash for me?" is not the past tense. It is the conditional.

    Both are used, but I believe that the former is the more correct phrasing.

    Can you as a question implies capacity. As in are you physically capable of blah, blah, blah...
     
  3. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    “Would” or “could” work, but I think the first is best
     
  4. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I wonder if “can” was at first just a sarcastic way of saying it. “Are you able to take out the trash? Nothings broke is it? You’re not allergic to work, are you?”
     
  5. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Would you is technically correct. Could you is more polite and less demanding, so most people say that. It's obvious that they could take out the trash, (unless they have pianos tied to their butts) so the implied question is would they.

    I really see no difference between can you or could you in typical usage, except that could you is more polite.

    "Could you take out the trash?"

    "Nope!"

    "Why not?"

    *Points to piano*


    "Can you take out the trash?"

    "Nope!"

    "Why not?"

    *Points to piano*

    Same thing. The only real difference is that can you refers to the present or future. Could you may be past or future.
     
  6. Spirit
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    Spirit Member

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    Could you tends to be more polite. Just a general trend I've spotted.
     
  7. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Thank you for all the replies. Your responses have reminded me of a teacher way back in primary school. Often, students would ask, "Can I please go to the toilet?". Her answer was always, "Of course you 'can' go to the toilet. The question is, 'may' you?". What do you guys think about that?

    So:

    "Can you take out the trash?"
    This means I'm asking whether the person is capable of taking out the trash.

    "Will you take out the trash?"
    This means I'm asking whether the person plans on taking out the trash.

    "Could/would you take out the trash?"
    This means I'm asking the person to do me a favor and take out the trash for me.

    Is that correct?

    Thanks.
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes.

    My guess as for the reason of "could/would" being more polite is that it's asked almost as a theoretical question, where after the subject is allowed to do it by their own initiative instead of by command.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    people don't always speak with perfect grammatical construction... in fact, most of us most often don't...

    so, what's correct will often disagree with what's said... and v/v...

    which means you don't have to be perfectly grammatical when writing dialog... in fact, it should be avoided, since it won't sound 'real' if too perfect, unless the speaker is a pompous AR type...
     
  10. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    This is a usage rule that no one really follows in real life. If you really want to know if someone is capable of doing it, you would say "are you able to take out the trash?"


    Generally using "can" instead of "could" is just a little more casual and less polite. It's the difference between asking someone you don't know well to do something, versus asking, say, your child to do it.

    You expect obedience from the child, but maybe from someone else, you're not so sure.

    P.S. Oops, didn't see Mammamaia's post. So, basically, what she said...
     
  11. Raiden
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    Raiden New Member

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    Here's how I see it:

    "can you" asks if you have the ability

    "could you" asks if there are other limitations that may stop you in a temporary sense

    "would you" asks if they are willing and implies that they are able.
     
  12. sirhoot
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    sirhoot Member

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    Personally I'll always ask would, rather than could, so it cuts out the opportunity for a silly answer. :)
     

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