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Suppose I give someone a sentence and say: I can't imagine any context for this sentence. Can you imagine any?

Now consider the sentence:

a) Can you imagine a context where you would use sentence "x"?

Q: Are we requesting the person to try to make an effort to imagine a context where..., or are we just asking whether he is able to imagine (or capable of imagining) such a context?

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Could be either.

But the context will usually make the intended meaning clear.

Consider this simpler example.

eg it's chilly in here. Can you close the window?

Do you think the speaker is just asking whether you are capable of closing it? Or is he asking you to close the window.

Clive?

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Clive

Could be either.

But the context will usually make the intended meaning clear.

Consider this simpler example.

eg it's chilly in here. Can you close the window?

Do you think the speaker is just asking whether you are capable of closing it? Or is he asking you to close the window.

Clive?

Although a request, "Can you imagine a context where..." is, I think, fairly different from the request "Can/could you close the window?" Moreover, I think "could" would not sound natural in that context:

b) Could you imagine a context where sentence "x" would be used? (???)

Am I right?

When speaking about ability, 'could' is often used as a more polite version of 'can'.

Can you close the window? sounds a little direct.

Could you close the window? is less direct. It implies '(If you are kind enough to listen to my humble request), could you close the window?

Clive

When speaking about ability, 'could' is often used as a more polite version of 'can'.

Can you close the window? sounds a little direct.

Could you close the window? is less direct. It implies '(If you are kind enough to listen to my humble request), could you close the window?

b) Could you imagine a context where sentence "x" would be used?

Does sentence b) sound natural, as a request?

Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?

No. It sounds like we are just asking whether he is able to imagine (or capable of imagining) such a context?

Clive

No. It sounds like we we just asking whether he is able to imagine (or capable of imagining) such a context?

One last question:

Suppose the interlocutor responds with:

c) Yes, I can imagine a few contexts.

Does sentence c) indicate that the contexts are already in his mind, and he is ready to tell them to anyone asking him to do so? Or does it just mean that it is possible for him to imagine those contexts, but he is not ready to tell them yet?

Does sentence c) indicate that the contexts are already in his mind, and he is ready to tell them to anyone asking him to do so?

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I think that now you are asking not just about language but also about how the brain works.

eg If you ask me 'Can you ride a bike', can I answer 'Yes' without first having a fleeting image of myself come into my head?

eg Or if you ask me if I can imagine some contexts with myself riding a bike, can I answer 'Yes' without first having a fleeting image of myself imaging some contexts come into my head?'

I don't know.

Clive

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