In other words, is there any language that uses the same mood to convey ability and possibility? For example, is there a language in which a sentence meaning "He'll be able to do that" and "He might do that" are expressed with the exact same morphemes and syntax, with context (environmental or linguistic) distinguishing the two?

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    What's the matter with He could do that?
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 20:08
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    So the answer is "yes--English"? Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 0:20
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    I don't know whether that meets your criteria or not. That's why I asked a question instead of answering it.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 2:23
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    English and many other languages. Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


"Ability" and "possibility" are a description of the dichtotomy linguistically known as "alethic modality" vs "epistemic modality". The former relates to the ability to achieve something under certain conditions, the latter to the speaker's extimation that something is likely to have happened. "Could" can index both: "he could be back home at 7 if he hurries up" (alethic) vs "he could be at home since I see his car outside" (epistemic).

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