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An exercise in HelloChinese course asked to translate the following sentence to Mandarin Chinese: "Can you (singular) go to the company tomorrow?".

I answered "你明天可不可以去公司?", which was incorrect.

The correct solution was "明天你能去公司吗?".

What was my mistake?


Here was my reasoning to use "可不可以". Without context it is hard to know the exact meaning of the word "can" in the English sentence: it can be asked to mean "Are you capable of going to the company tomorrow?" or "May I ask you to go to the company tomorrow?". My intuition suggested that the latter is more likely, as in United States I hear the word "can" a lot in the context of asking for permission. My understanding was that in Chinese one can ask for permission with "可以", which is what I did.

FYI: I'm currently a beginner studying Mandarin Chinese. My current reading/writing level roughly corresponds to the HSK 2.0 level 2 or HSK 3.0 level 1.

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    I wouldn't get too hung up on this. Words like 可以 and 能 can colloquially often be used interchangeably, albeit with subtle differences. HelloChinese is probably just looking for a specific set answer. It's not like they would have moderators manually correcting homework. Perhaps the exact wording was taught perviously?
    – Mou某
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 17:39
  • The reason is the course has a "standard answer", in practice, they are almost the same.
    – sfy
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 17:47
  • From my experience, it appears that for every question HelloChinese has 1 standard answer and a few alternative answers. It accepts if the answer given matches either the standard answer or any of the alternative answers. After accepting or rejecting it shows the explanation of the standard answer. tldr: HelloChinese can have more than 1 correct answer.
    – fiktor
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 18:05

4 Answers 4

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I feel that 你明天可不可以去公司? sounds unnecessarily polite because 可以 is somewhat more formal than 能 in this use case. They are otherwise exchangeable.

However, I as a native speaker thinks that both versions are correct, even though 可不可以 is a little weird.

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there is a subtle difference with 可以 and 能 in this context, but I do agree with hello chinese that 能 is more natural in that sentence. 可以 almost feels like asking permission or if its physically possible versus 能 is more like just asking if its doable/you know how.

That said in reality it probably wouldn't matter in this context with either word.

Hello chinese is great at accepting multiple answers but note something acceptable but not standard mandarin will not be accepted (since the course teaches standard mandarin).

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  • Can - aux. 可以;能. dict.cn/can
    – r13
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 22:24
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Your answer can be expanded as "你明天可以不可以去公司?" - Can or can not you go to the company tomorrow? The sentence is not wrong but not as close to the original sentence as the given answer, which can be said as "你明天可以公司吗?" - Can you go to the company tomorrow?

@Mou某 is correct that 能 = 可以, both mean "be able to - can".

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To me both 可不可以 and 能 are acceptable. Instead, I would say 回公司 instead of 去公司.

你明天可不可以回公司? or 明天你能回公司吗?

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