"Péter can not see the woman."

Translation:Péter nem látja a nőt.

October 13, 2016

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This sentence led me to the same question many others here express. Reading over the discussion on this sentence I have to agree that in English we sometimes make a distinction between "cannot see" and "does not see". I do think there are times we use them interchangeable, but not always. My best examples I can think of are:

You are in a crowd a people. You see a woman who looks like someone you know so you ask him if he sees her so you can ask him if it is who you think it might be. But Peter cannot figure out which woman you are trying to point out. So even though Peter is physically able to see the woman he is not seeing her. Here we would say "Peter does not see the woman."

The other scenario would be that you are still in the crowd of people. You are trying to point out the woman you think you might know to Peter. You ask him if he sees her and is it who you might think it is. What you don't realize is that from where Peter is standing there is an obstacle in his line of sight, or maybe the sun is in his eyes, so he is unable to see her. Then you would say "Peter cannot see the woman."

There are times that you might say "Do you see the woman?" and the reply you receive could be "no, I can't see her" or 'no, I don't see her" depending on whether the person trying to see thinks they are being prevented from seeing or not.

I also get the idea that in some languages all the helping verbs we use in English aren't needed. I find it interesting that in English we add helping verbs like "do" or "can" to ask a question but not all other languages seem to work that way. So it makes sense why these kinds of questions come up, because the translation isn't completely word for word.

I don't know if this adds to the discussion or not, but it was just my thoughts. I had a hard time deciding how to phrase the English on this one, too.


Meh, it feels very arbitrary. One may say he is still theoretically able to see the woman, even though obstacles or sunshine are preventing him to actually see her at the moment. These kind of circumstances may or may not differ much from the circumstances that keep him from spotting the woman that he can see technically.
From this point of view, at the end of the day, Peter "can" (=is generally able to) see the woman in both cases and he doesn't see the woman in either of the two. (This is exactly the case for the Hungarian translations.)
Taking his "mental inability" into account, one may say he cannot see the woman in either cases - he tried it and failed; at that moment, he couldn't see the woman. (Now, this "trial" aspect isn't present in Hungarian, if you say "nem látom a nőt", it's implied that it's not lack of effort that's preventing you from seeing her).

I'm not an English native but I'd guess this "tried it, didn't work" is the plus "can't see" expresses compared to "doesn't see". And it's just implied in Hungarian. "Nem tudom látni" would refer to general ability.


Previous lessons introduced "can" as tudni. I answered, Péter nem tudja látni a nőt. But the "correct" answer is just Péter nem látja a nőt. The Hungarian does not include anything corresponding to English "can" -- the translation into English would appear to be rather, "Peter does not see the woman." Where does the "can" fit into this? This really looks like a mistranslation.


This is just how it is with "látni", "hallani". Hungarian does not refer to the ability, just says it like that.


How does one distinguish between "Peter does not see the woman" and "Peter cannot see the woman"? And is tudni ever used with látni and hallani?


Well, give me an example where the two are not interchangeable in English, and maybe I will be able to come up with an answer. Normally, the two seem to mean pretty much the same thing.

Another situation is when it is about permission. "Sorry, sir, you can't see her now, she is busy." Or "Péter does not see the woman because she did not make an appointment." These are a bit idiomatic,aren't they? These are expressed differently in Hungarian, as well:

"Péter does not see the woman... (no appointment)" - "Péter nem fogadja a nőt."

"Péter can not see the woman ... (she is busy)" - "Péter nem láthatja a nőt." Or "Péter nem találkozhat a nővel." - he can't meet her.

"Péter can not see the woman ... (he is out of time)" - "Péter nem tudja fogadni a nőt."

So, these are different. But when it is only about the physical ability, there is not much difference between "do not" and "can not". Is there? And Hungarian does not use "tudni" in this situation.


There is a difference in meaning in the English, where I would never consider the two to be fully interchangeable. Cannot see implies an inability, while does not see merely means the person does not see at this moment. The lack of this distinction in Hungarian is interesting, and certainly worth pointing out explicitly to English learners of the language.

Are there other verbs that do not take tudni, similar to látni and hallani?


Yes, of course, there is a difference between "can't" and "don't", but the two go hand in hand most of the time. If I cannot see something, naturally I do not see it. And vice versa, most of the time. This is for when someone is looking and can't/don't see.
There are so many possibilities with these words, that's why I said give me an example and I will try to come up with the proper translation.
I already covered another significant portion of the meanings of "can" in my comment above.

On "tudni", my guess is that it has to do with verbs related to the senses. Hearing, seeing, touching, etc. Maybe it is wider than that.

These rules are almost always only valid in general. There are specific situations, which may be somehow different after all, where the rules are bent, or do not apply at all. But that is a different topic.


A helpful explanation, vysey, thank you! Interesting and useful distinction about verbs of sensing. I'll keep that in mind in my studies. :)


I don't think inability is a valid option when you are talking about a definite object. How can you be unable to see this one thing and still be able to see other things? I can't imagine this thought to be expressed, like ever. If you actually want to say "I'm unable to see the woman", maybe some "Nem tudom/Képtelen vagyok/Nem vagyok képes látni a nőt" would be okay too. It's the idea itself that feels very strange.


Is there actually a substantive difference between "nő" and "asszony"?


From what I've learned so far, it sounds similar to the distinction in English between woman and lady. Depending on context, these might be interchangeable, but they carry different shades of meaning.


thanks! that makes sense in nagyasszony and kisasszony.


An "asszony" is a married woman. A "nő" is an adult female human being, a woman.
A "lady" is a "hölgy".
"Nagyasszony" is not really used these days.
"Asszony" relates to "Mrs.", "kisasszony" relates to "Miss".
When you address a woman, you can say "hölgyem" (safe), "asszonyom" (for married women) or "kisasszony" (for young unmarried women).


@vvsey The difference is "nem vagyok képes látni" vs "nem látom". It's quite distinct in English, "can see" v "see".


@turnipfish, I understand the difference grammatically/semantically, but I am saying that in real life the difference is at least very blurry.
If you can not see something, you more than likely do not see it.
And if you do not see something, you probably can't see it.

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