Forum Rocket French French Grammar Pouvoir Expressed in English

Pouvoir Expressed in English



Pouvoir is translated to can, or to be able to in English.

In Lesson 10.6, is the example Tu peux me tutoyer ! in which the translation is given as You can say « tu » to me!  The English translation is grammatically incorrect; it should read You may say « tu » to me!.

Can speaks of  a person's ability to do something, but may, gives (or asks) permission to do something.  There's a distinct difference between can and may in English.

Pouvoir  in the example, gives permission and isn't speaking of the listener's capability.  Is pouvoir, therefore, one of those words that has multiple meanings in English?

Post note:  The example Vous pouvez me tutoyer si vous voulez ! has the same translation problem.
toru e

toru e

Exactly, in French (and Spanish) pouvoir (poder) is used for both permission and ability, so English learners who speak French or Spanish as their native language sometimes find it difficult to discriminate between the two and use "can" for everything.


Bonjour à vous deux!

Vous avez tout à fait raison Diane! You are correct Diane, the grammar is in fact incorrect and I understand exactly where you are coming from.
Our justification for having translated it this way is that it makes things simpler but also by using the expression "Tu peux me tutoyer " there should already be a sense of familiarity with whomever you are speaking, and in these cases we would rarely use the word 'may' in English. To illustrate my point here are two examples:

"May I speak informally with you?" --- "Yes, you may."
"Can I speak informally with you?" --- "Yes, of course you can!" 

The word 'may' carries a fair degree of politness and in order to ask the question of being able to speak informally, you should already have passed that level of politness. Our translation was meant to capture that familiarity and overall sense of the phrase and I'm very sorry if it has caused confusion. I hope the knowledge that grammatically you are correct is some consolation.

I hope this helps,

   -   Marie-Claire

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