The issue here is that "can," "could," and "may" are interchangeable in Modern English when used as modals. All are grammatically correct, and while "may" sounds a little more formal than the other two imo, all three are acceptable in either an informal or formal register. Spanish (apparently) preserves the difference in meaning between the subjunctive "podríamos" and the indicative "podemos," but to say therefore that "podríamos" is the strict correlative of "could we" and "podemos" of "can we" makes no sense, because English doesn't differentiate between the two.
Firstly, I wonder why you would say, the "subjunctive 'podriamos' " when in fact the word is indicative conditional? Secondly, I am bit flummoxed by the idea that English, per se, doesn't differentiate between the two, i.e., between "can" and "could," or indicative and conditional. That the two are used interchangeably by some people in common parlance doesn't make them the same : The difference is nuanced, but it is still there. There are a number of sources on the net that affirm this. A few of them are:
Is it something like this:
- ¿podríamos ir a la playa? = Have the conditions been met (by us for instance) that allow us to go to the beach /?
¿podemos ir a la playa? = Can (literally be able to) we go to to the beach ?
Where does asking permission via 'may' fit in? podríamos? Or can 'may' also apply to podemos?
I still don't get when to use podríamos and podemos in a Spanish sentence. Is podríamos expressing a wish, or a desire because it is subjunctive? Something that's not sure to happen? Like "we should eat more vegetables", while indicative refers to something that someone can surely do? If someone could clarify the meaning of these two words and when to use them, it would be greatly appreciated :)
You're telling me! It certainly doesn't help when I don't understand the terms subjunctive, modal, preterite etc etc even when I try to read up about them. I only remember past, present and future, so maybe I should have paid more attention to English literature at school!
http://www.123teachme.com/spanish_verb_conjugation/ is an excellent site showing verb conjugation for all(?) Spanish verbs and you can easily print off a page for any verb (especially the irregular ones) you want. For example as I attempt this (the most difficult for me thus far) section yet again I have conjugation charts for "Poder" and "Deber" printed off in front of me to help me cheat!
Yes, the terms are awfully confusing, especially when trying to remember which tense to use, and which conjugation goes with that tense! I guess people learning English have this problem as well, although I don't think we have quite so many conjugations for the verbs. :) Thanks for the link :)
As we hear the correct verb form used repeatedly over time by native Spanish speakers it becomes automatic to use the correct form ourselves in those situations where Spanish doesn't correlate exactly with English. In my opinion, learning grammar can't entirely replace communication with native speakers.
"We could go to the beach?" is a statement with a question mark stuck on the end. It is not, grammatically, a question. For instance "The sky is blue?" even though it has a question mark on the end, is not a proper question. "Is the sky blue?" would be the correct way to ask. Word order generally has to change in english to make a question.
That being said, I recognize that people do ask questions that way, at least in the US, but that doesn't make it right :(
"people do ask questions that way" is precisely what makes it right. Form follows use. If my friends and I were trying to decide on what to do on the weekend, I would offer "we could go to the beach?" as a suggestion. I would never say, "could we go to the beach?" because it seems like I'm asking for permission rather than offering a suggestion.
if you were offering a suggestion a question mark would be unnecessary, if you followed it by what do you think then yes. but on the other hand as eshewan mentions "the sky is blue"? is not a question just because it has a question mark, but if you were trying to write about someone who has said the sky is blue, maybe looking up to it in an inquisitive expression and emphasizing Blue, then would you type a question mark? or not?
Here on DL this debate goes on and on, but I can tell you, categorically, that "The sky is blue?" is a question. Here's an excerpt from the Cambridge Dictionary site:
We can use statements (declaratives) to ask yes-no questions. In writing we know they are questions because they have question marks. In speaking we know they are questions because of the context, and often because of their intonation.
For some reason many people consider them ungrammatical, but statement form questions are not only grammatically correct, they are also commonly used to express surprise or seek confirmation. They are perfectly valid.
Agreed that the word order is not the norm, but it is employed quite often and DL usually accepts it (and sometimes even offers it as the primary answer). It is also commonly used to offer suggestions. You: "What do you want to do today?" Me:"We could go to the beach?" And it is used to query statements. You: "The sky is blue." Me (thinking it is grey today): "The sky is blue?" Perhaps you would have to add the clauses "... if you want?" and "Do you really think ..." respectively to these sentences to make them grammatically correct, I'm not sure, but we would hear this word order quite regularly.
This is tough as in English it used to be that "can" equated to "able" and "may" equated to permission, but it seems that official grammar is changing it's stance on that. Informally, it seems that "can" is now allowed in a question asking permission for, or to do, something. Even so, I'm not entirely sure that Duolingo's translation, "could we go to the beach," is grammatically correct. If so, what about "can we go?" I believe that technically in English "can we go to the beach?" is a question of "are we able to go to the beach?" I am not sure what changes if "could" is inserted. So due to my own lack of understanding English grammar, I'm not entirely sure what it is actually asking in Spanish or English, nor what would technically be correct. Any feed back, anyone?
Setting grammar mostly aside, to me I understand that "could" perhaps would be considered a slightly more polite way to ask a question. I don't know if that is just a nuance of the english language or if actual grammar comes to play. Still, to my ears, "may" sounds much more accurate and better.
It actually seems that making it past tense in english is clearer. "could we have gone...?" Would give the sense that they didn't go because of a particular hindrance, which if it were removed, would have allowed them to go....
I'm not positive about the differences in Spanish, but in English there is a difference between "may" and "could." If a boy is asking his parents, he would say "May I go to the beach?" If he's talking to a group of friends who are trying to figure out what to do, he says "Could we go to the beach?"
I would posit that may would never make sense in this situation because it would in essence be asking permission from yourself (since you are part of "we").
The way I learned the difference is that "Can we go to the beach?" asks if we have the ability to do so. "May we go to the beach?" Is asking permission to do that. However, the distinction is used less today, so that your explanation shows the "May" as being a more formal usage, asking permission from parents.
If two children are asking their mother if they are allowed to go to the beach, one of them might say "May we go to the beach?" It makes perfect sense. However, I actually believe that in that situation most children (at least, in my part of the US) would say "Can we go to the beach?"
Addressing only English modals I suggest that their use is more complicated and nuanced than the majority of commenters acknowledge. If you would like to brush up on your knowledge of their use I can suggest some sites that are good for English language learners. To give you a hint about what I mean I noticed that where I live it MAY rain today. The rain does not have my permission.
Modals can be difficult to translate. debería/deberías/deberíamos/deberían followed by the infinitive is generally a good way to express "should".
¿Deberíamos ir a la playa? = "Should we go to the beach?"
(btw, ¿Debemos ir a la playa? is more like "Must we (do we have to) go to the beach?")
Not exactly. I know this is an old post, but as noted by someone below:
- "can we go..." = "are we able to go?" (do we have the ability to go)
- "could we go" = "is it possible we would go" (under certain conditions)
- "may we go..." = "are we permitted to go? (would you let us go ) OR
- "we may go.." = "it is possible that we will go, etc.
Here, "could we go" assumes "can" but depends on a stated (or unstated) condition other than permission from an authority.
I think, though, the difference becomes fuzzier when using the conditional, "could" or the past tense of may (might) where "I might go" covers the sense of possibility rather than permission. Just thinking out loud here, so to speak, & reserve the right to revise these remarks. ;-)
No. If "can we' were accepted, would we ever learn that "¿Podemos?" = "Can we?" but that "¿Podríamos?" = "Could we"? using the conditional tense instead of simple present tense? The conditional is often used to ask a question in order to soften its effect, making it less direct and thus, more courteous.
Take heart and give yourself time. In a few weeks, those verb tenses could be less confusing.
Could we...? = podríamos...? Can we...? = podemos...? Would + verb [raíz del verbo] (root of the verb): E.j = I would like = Me gustaría I would buy = Compraría [Gustar (like) = Gust raíz] Just a little concept of what I think... Tell me if you need something more... I'm a native spanish...
There has been much discussion about English could, would, can and may in this thread.
But what does the Spanish mean? In what kind of situations would this be appropriate, and what does it mean in those?
Is it a suggestion? (We could go the beach, maybe?) Request/pleading? (Could we go to the beach?) Or asking about appropriateness? If we're able to? (Seems like that'd be podemos?) Asking for permission? Or maybe multiple interpretations are possible depending on the context?