Same pattern but different answers?


How can I thank you all enough, and here are some strange sentences to me. Could you take a look at them?


1) If I don't sleep now, I could miscarry.


2) If you don't love me, I could kill myself.


Most native English speakers say #1 is grammartically correct and it sounds okay but #2 is wrong, But to me, the pattern of the both are the same and they sound okay. Is there a reason you feel some wrongness in grammar in #2?


Thank you so much as always in advance.

asked Aug 31 '12 at 02:21 Hans Contributor

2 answers


That’s a great question!  It is exactly the same construction, but #2 does sound somewhat wrong to my ear. 


Many people use the words can and may interchangeably, though they have two different meanings.  (Could and might are forms of can and may.)  Can means that one is able to do something.  May means that one is allowed to do it.  If you asked, “Can I drive your car?” I might answer, “You may, but I don’t know if you can.” 


A woman’s body may miscarry a child, and certain other actions increase the ability of the body to do that.  There is no permission to be given (or one may believe that is in the hands of a higher power) and the ability of the body to miscarry always exists.  Both could and might can be properly used.


One always has the ability to kill himself.  But does he have permission?  Most of us don’t.  I’m not talking about suicide being illegal, I mean the permission we give ourselves to do something.  Even people who are very depressed usually don’t give themselves permission to commit suicide.  Saying “I could kill myself” really isn’t much of a threat, since anyone could do that.  To properly phrase the threat, the person should say “I might kill myself.”  (And at that point we can only hope someone helps the person get some mental health assistance.)

link comment answered Aug 31 '12 at 03:08 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

Patty's answer is excellent.


What her answer shows us is that structure alone does not tell us whether the statement feels right or wrong. We must take the meaning of the words in combination with it structure. We reject sentences when the meaning is illogical or implausible even if the words are structured correctly.


Native speakers hear the meaning before we recognize the structure. Often ESL students will recognize the structure before they hear the meaning. At times, this causes the ESL student confusion.

link answered Aug 31 '12 at 03:53 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Thank you both. I am so lucky and happy that I know you here.

HansAug 31 '12 at 05:28

add comment

Your answer

Write at least 20 characters

Have a question about English grammar, style or vocabulary use? Ask now to get help from Grammarly experts for FREE.