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

Hi, Language Learner—Those sentences are a bit unnatural. Normally, with count nouns, like "context," "any" (used in isolation, with the head of the noun phrase elided) is understood to relate to the plural form of that noun. Here the antecedent for the ellipsis is singular. The following would be more natural:

(1) I can't think of a context in which this sentence would be used. Can you think of one?

(2) I can't think of any contexts in which this sentence would be used. Can you think of 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?

The sentence is naturally understood as voicing a request that the interlocutor make an effort to imagine such a context. Similarly, "Do you know what time it is?" is naturally understood as requesting that the interlocutor tell you the time, not as asking if he is in possession of that trivial piece of knowledge.

Last edited by David, Moderator

Hi, Language Learner—Those sentences are a bit unnatural. Normally, with count nouns, like "context," "any" (used in isolation, with the head of the noun phrase elided) is understood to relate to the plural form of that noun. Here the antecedent for the ellipsis is singular. The following would be more natural:

(1) I can't think of a context in which this sentence would be used. Can you think of one?

(2) I can't think of any contexts in which this sentence would be used. Can you think of any?

Is this sentence possible:

(3) I can't think of any context in which this sentence would be used. Can you think of one?

Does "any context" here mean "it doesn't matter which context?" If so, then I think sentence 3) doesn't sound correct/natural. Am I right?

The sentence is naturally understood as voicing a request that the interlocutor make an effort to imagine such a context. Similarly, "Do you know what time it is?" is naturally understood as requesting that the interlocutor tell you the time, not as asking if he is in possession of that trivial piece of knowledge.

Since it is a request, can I use "could" instead of "can" to make the request a little polite-sounding:

b) Could you imagine/think of a context in which this sentence would be used?

as in:

Andrew, can/could you help me install this software?

Is this sentence possible:

(3) I can't think of any context in which this sentence would be used. Can you think of one?

Does "any context" here mean "it doesn't matter which context?"

Yes, Language learner, that is correct.

 If so, then I think sentence 3) doesn't sound correct/natural.

It would sound natural in a context in which one wished to stress that one wanted to know whether a context was at all possible for the sentence. Normally, this would be a context in which the question were being reiterated, and the word any would itself be emphasized:

A: I can't think of a context in which this sentence would be used. Can you?
B: No.
A: Can you think of any context in which it would be used?
B: Are you open to science-fiction contexts?
A: Sure.

Since it is a request, can I use "could" instead of "can" to make the request a little polite-sounding:


b) Could you imagine/think of a context in which this sentence would be used?

as in:

Andrew, can/could you help me install this software?

Yes, of course.

Last edited by David, Moderator

Yes, Language learner, that is correct.

It would sound natural in a context in which one wished to stress that one wanted to know whether a context was at all possible for the sentence. Normally, this would be a context in which the question were being reiterated, and the word any would itself be emphasized:

A: I can't think of a context in which this sentence would be used. Can you?
B: No.
A: Can you think of any context in which it would be used?
B: Are you open to science-fiction contexts?
A: Sure.

It is completely clear now. Thank you .

Yes, of course.

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?

Last edited by Language learner

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?

Hello again, Language learner—Yes, response (c) indicates that the contexts are already in the interlocutor's mind. That is, the interlocutor would, in giving that response, be linguistically representing those contexts as already being in his mind, whether or not each of them was in fact fully formed in his mind.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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