Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD04xx/EWD498.html:

We can found no scientific discipline, nor a hearty profession on the technical mistakes of the Department of Defense and, mainly, one computer manufacturer.

I'd always thought that words after "can" should be in present tense, but the above sentence doesn't sound wrong so now I'm wondering if this rule even exists at all.

Must the word after "can" be present tense?

share|improve this question
7  
This isn't the past tense of "find" - it's "to found": en.wiktionary.org/wiki/found#Verb_2 –  aedia λ Oct 7 '11 at 16:17
    
Checking the link, I find the entire passage is badly phrased, and is almost certainly written by a non-native speaker. –  FumbleFingers Oct 7 '11 at 16:32
    
The answers are correct about the specific example, but don't address the question: Can the word "can" be followed by a past-tense verb. Like "We can established no scientific discipline ..." It sounds wrong to me, but I'm not sure what the rule would be. –  Jay Oct 7 '11 at 16:52
    
@FumbleFingers Love him him or hate him, know who you're talking about: this is Dijkstra, here! His "EWDs" are worthwhile reading for anyone in computer science, even if some, like his opinions on GOTO, are notoriously inflammatory. (I agree that this sentence is confusing, but the rest is clear enough, I think, keeping in mind that it uses technical jargon of the time. Dijkstra was Dutch, so indeed, he would probably not have learned English as his first language, but note that even in this piece he seems to regard it as his "native tongue".) –  aedia λ Oct 7 '11 at 17:12
    
@aedia: I only scanned the link briefly, but nothing suggested that the substance of what he said was in any way below par. But OP's particular example is only one of several where the phrasing is poor/opaque. Plus it's a curious mixture of informal/formal/academic, so I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone wishing to learn better English, even though it does raise some interesting points about computer science. I don't see why you think that even in this piece he seems to regard [English] as his "native tongue". –  FumbleFingers Oct 7 '11 at 17:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As already properly commented by aedia, the word contained in the example you presented is not the past tense of find, but rather a different word, to found, meaning to establish.

I'm sure you've heard it used before, in examples like:

This company was founded in 1950.

That's the past tense. The infinitive is used in your example:

We can found no scientific discipline.

Which can be rewritten to:

We can establish no scientific discipline.

share|improve this answer
    
so are you saying the rule (infinitive after "can") did exist? –  Pacerier Oct 7 '11 at 16:57
3  
@Pacerier: uhm, what? why did exist? it still does exist... –  RiMMER Oct 7 '11 at 17:01
    
@Pacerier I think you're still confused. After "can" you must use the infinitive form. In your example, the word "found" is NOT the past-tense form of "to find", but the infinitive form of a different verb, "to found". –  narx Oct 8 '11 at 22:39

The word "found" is the present tense. I suspect your confusion comes from thinking that it is the past tense of "find". But it is not. The word "found" is the verb form of "foundation". They could also have written "we can build no foundation for scientific discipline ... [on the mistakes of the DoD]."

share|improve this answer
2  
Well it's not the present tense but as pointed out in the other answers it's the infinitive. It's an easy enough mistake though since most English words have the same form for the infinitive and present. Jez, however found the perfect example in their answer. –  hippietrail Oct 7 '11 at 22:09

The word "found" is not present tense; it's infinitive. "Can", in this context, is a modal verb which takes an infinitive. The way to make sure of this is to use a verb (be) whose infinitive (be) differs from its present indicitive (is / are / etc.).

We can be noisy if we want.

So, no, it must not be present tense, it must be infinitive.

share|improve this answer
    
You're exactly right, my mistake. –  Fraser Orr Oct 7 '11 at 17:10

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.