I have made up two similar examples below.

(1a) John is a lazy student. He is not trying as hard as he can.

My non-native English speaking friends think revised my second sentence to make (1b) below.

(1b) .... He is not trying as hard as he could.

My friends think "could" sounds better. I don't understand why they are using that. I think "can" is better because my entire example is in the simple present.

What is  your opinion? Thank you very much for your time and help.

 

Original Post
ansonman posted:

 I think "can" is better because my entire example is in the simple present. 

Hi, Ansonman,

The reason above does not justify the use of "can." In many present contexts, "could" can be used, for example:

- I'm tired. Could you help me?

The only difference I see is that "can" is more positive, while "could" is more remote:

(1a) He is not trying as hard as he can. (The implication is: I know he can try harder, and perhaps he will.)

(1b) He is not trying as hard as he could. (The implication is: If he wanted, he could try harder, but he's unwilling and therefore unlikely to make a bigger effort.)

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