1 a. He borrowed money from his parents, so he could start his own business.

b. He borrowed money from his parents so that he could start his own business.


Q1. I wonder what the difference is. It seems to me the same.


2. As far as I know "otherwise" is a transition. Then, would it be possible to use with semicolon:
I always eat breakfast; otherwise, I get hungry during class.
Original Post
Hi, Jiho,

Your two questions here constitute two totally different topics. I'm only going to respond to Q1.
quote:
1 a. He borrowed money from his parents, so he could start his own business.

b. He borrowed money from his parents so that he could start his own business.


Q1. I wonder what the difference is. It seems to me the same.
They're not the same. The presence or absence of a comma makes a big difference. The "so (that)" clause in (a) states a consequence of his borrowing money from his parents. The "so (that)" clause in (b) states his reason for borrowing money from his parents.
quote:
1 a. He borrowed money from his parents, so he could start his own business.


Hi, David,

I totally agree. That's a very good example of how punctuation can change meaning.

For the sentence above to express consequence or result, shouldn't Jiho have used "was able to," "managed to," or "succeeded in" rather than "could"?

  • He borrowed money from his parents, so he was able to start his own business.
  • He borrowed money from his parents, so he managed to start his own business.
  • He borrowed money from his parents, so he succeeded in starting his own business.
  • That's an interesting point, Gustavo. I do think that "was able to" conveys the sense of consequence better than "could" in (1a); however, I find that I am able to hear "could" in the sense of "was able to" in that sentence and others like it. Let's not forget that "could" is, at least historically, the past tense of "can" (even outside of backshifted indirect speech). Compare:
    • He has borrowed money from his parents, so he can (= is able to) start his own business.

    • He borrowed money from his parents, so he could (= was able to) start his own business.
    Also, consider that we sometimes use "could" as a past-tense "be able to" in questions: "How could he start his own business?" Now, of course, such "How could he?" questions can easily have the idiomatic meaning "How dare he?" But, in truth, they're ambiguous. The literal meaning is also possible, as evidenced by questions like "How could he be so sure?"
    Hi, David,

    That example in the interrogative does sound fine, meaning, as you said, "How dare he?"

    Now, I have to tell you that all ESL books -- at least the ones I have used all these years since I was a student -- make a point of the fact that "was/were able to" has to be used when we need to convey the idea of past performance (past ability + actual performance). By way of example, let me transcribe part of Unit 26 of English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, Cambridge University Press:

    quote:
    Could and was able to

    Sometimes could is the past of can. We use could especially with: see / hear / smell / taste / feel / remember / understand
  • When we went into the house, we could smell something burning.
  • She spoke in a very low voice, but I could understand what she said.

    We also use could to say that somebody had the general ability or permission to do something:
  • My grandfather could speak five languages.
  • We were completely free. We could do what we wanted. (= we were allowed to do...)

    We use could for general ability. But if we are talking about what happened in a particular situation, we use was/were able to... or managed to... (not could):
  • The fire spread through the building quickly but everybody was able to escape. or... everybody managed to escape. (but not could escape)
  • They didn't want to come with us at first but we managed to persuade them. or ... we were able to persuade them. (but not could persuade)

    Compare:
  • Jack was an excellent tennis player. He could beat anybody. (= he had the general ability to beat anybody)
    but
  • Jack and Alf had a game of tennis yesterday. Alf played very well but in the end Jack managed to beat him. or... was able to beat him. (= he managed to beat him in this particular game)

    The negative couldn't (could not) is possible in all situations:
  • My grandfather couldn't swim.
  • We tried hard but we couldn't persuade them to come with us.
  • Alf played well but he couldn't beat Jack.


  • As I see it, "He borrowed money from his parents, so he could start his own business" could work if we don't know whether he actually started his own business, similar to saying "He borrowed money from his parents, so he could start (= was in a position to start / had the possibility of starting) his own business any time he wanted/any time he decided to do so."

    I do hope you agree with me on this, David. Otherwise, I'd have to do a lot of "relearning and reteaching." Smile
    quote:
    That example in the interrogative does sound fine, meaning, as you said, "How dare he?"
    Hi, Gustavo,

    What I said was that it was ambiguous. "How could he start his own business?" may, depending on intonation and the context in which it is uttered or written, mean either "How dare he start his own business?" or "How was he able to start his own business?"
    quote:
    Now, I have to tell you that all ESL books -- at least the ones I have used all these years since I was a student -- make a point of the fact that "was/were able to" has to be used when we need to convey the idea of past performance (past ability + actual performance).
    In claiming that the "so (that)" clause in "He borrowed money from his parents, so he could start his own business" may legitimately express consequence (= "He borrowed money from his parents, and, as a result of that, he was able to start his own business"), I haven't claimed that actual performance is indicated. That is, I haven't claimed that (1a) implies that the referent of "he" did in fact start his own business.

    Just because a person was able to do something doesn't mean he actually did it. And just as there is no contradiction in saying, "He was able to do it, but he didn't," there is no contradiction in saying, "He could do it (at that time), but he didn't" (even though we commonly express that idea, quite succinctly, with "He could have done it"). Neither "He was able to do it" nor "He could do it (at that time)" entails "He did it."
    quote:
  • The fire spread through the building quickly but everybody was able to escape. . . . (but not could escape)
  • IF Murphy's claim is that "could" is bad in that sentence, I strongly disagree. There is nothing ungrammatical or wrong with the sentence "The fire spread through the building quickly, but everybody could escape." Why is it that if I said, "The fire spread through the building," my interlocutor could legitimately respond with either "Could everybody escape?" or "Was everybody able to escape?"?
    quote:
    What I said was that it was ambiguous. "How could he start his own business?" may, depending on intonation and the context in which it is uttered or written, mean either "How dare he start his own business?" or "How was he able to start his own business?"


    I see your point, David. Sorry if I favored only one of the interpretations, based on my prior knowledge.

    quote:
    Neither "He was able to do it" nor "He could do it (at that time)" entails "He did it."


    You're right, David. I was thinking of "was/were able to" as solely equivalent to "managed to" or "succeeded in," but it's true that "was/were able to" can also be used to express past ability (without actual performance).

    From now on, I'll supplement my explanations on the use of "could" and "was/were able to" with this definition you gave further above, which I believe enhances what books say with your valuable knowledge and experience as a native speaker:

    quote:
    I do think that "was able to" conveys the sense of consequence better than "could" in (1a); however, I find that I am able to hear "could" in the sense of "was able to" in that sentence and others like it.

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