I can not


Please could someone explain the difference between 'je n'arrive pas' and 'je ne peux pas' to say 'I can not'? I found 'je n'arrive pas à avaler' used in an exercise to say 'I can't swallow' and I don't understand why this is used instead of 'je ne peux pas à avaler'.

September 26, 2017


You will hear « je n'arrive pas » all the time. The difference is small, but it tends to mean you have tried a lot... and regardless of your efforts, you still don't manage to swallow. For example, I might say « je ne peux pas voler un avion », but I wouldn't say « je n'arrive pas à voler un avion », because I've never tried it, and never will either. If I had tried a lot, then I might say it. Then there's a third way: « je ne sais pas voler un avion », which is ''I don't know how to fly an aeroplane''... in this case, probably even more appropriate. There might be a better word than voler in this sentence, but I can't think of it at this moment.

September 26, 2017

Merci beaucoup! This makes sense now. It's interesting that the French have a term for the space between being definitively unable to do something and being able to do it.

September 26, 2017

In English, you can say "I haven't managed to ..." for a similar meaning.

September 27, 2017
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