afford means

"to have enough money or time to be able to buy or to do something".

Why is it used with "can"? Why don't people simply say "I don't afford it" instead of "I can't afford it"?

As you can see, "being able to" is hidden in the meaning of "afford". So it seems redundant to me to use it with "can".

To me, "I cannot afford this car" means "I am not able to have enough money to be able to buy this car". But "I don't afford this car" makes more sense to me since it means "I do not have enough money to be able to buy this car".

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    For one thing, the dictionary seems to provide the "to be able to buy or to do something" part more as a helpful additional information than as the definition itself: "to have enough money or time," so you are not left wondering "enough for what?" --> "to be able to" is not inherent in the definition and needs to be explicitly stated when using afford. – Kris Nov 18 '13 at 6:41
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    There is a difference between having enough money to buy something and being able to afford it. For example if I have $100 I have enough money to go to a nice restaurant, but I can't afford to go because I need to pay my electric bill with that money. – Jim Nov 18 '13 at 6:42
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    @Jim Yes. But it doesn't help answer the question. – Kris Nov 18 '13 at 6:43
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    @Kris- I didn't write it as an answer. But it does draw out the distinction between having enough money to be able to and actually choosing to do so. – Jim Nov 18 '13 at 6:44
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    @Kris It's not "a helpful additional information". I checked another dictionary and it was part of the main meaning there too. – Meysam Nov 18 '13 at 7:32

The meaning of afford we are considering here is that which the OED gives as its fifth definition: ‘To manage to give; to spare (time, room, money, etc.)’.

That, by its nature, is not something we do or don’t do. It’s something we are able or unable to do. When we try to substitute spare for afford, we encounter the same problem. We don’t say of something expensive *‘I don’t spare money for it’ any more than we say *’I don’t afford it’.

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  • How can the OED's definition be logical? Its adjective 'affordable' is gradable. We speak of something being 'more' or 'less affordable'.So 'afford' as a verb surely has to be gradable. It is not a hard and fast matter as to whether something can be afforded. Many people could afford a Rolls Royce, for example, if they were prepared to sell the roof over their heads to do so. 'Afford' must be something ultimately which we choose to do, not which is extraneously governed as the OED suggests. Because it is uncommon to say 'I will not afford that any longer' does not mean it is wrong. – WS2 Nov 18 '13 at 11:59
  • And if 'afford' means 'manage to give', as the OED would have us believe, how do people 'spend money which they can't afford'? – WS2 Nov 18 '13 at 12:03
  • Just because you spend the money doesn't mean you can actually spare it. If you can't actually spare it, you simply go over-budget or in to debt. I'd also argue that afford as defined here is perfectly reasonable. I can spare a $50 dollars to buy an item. If I only have $50 to spare though, then I can only barely do it. If I have $5000 to spare then I can easily spare the $50. – Doc Nov 18 '13 at 15:17
  • "I can 'manage to give' $50" -> "I can afford $50" is the typical use of the word. The use of 'do' is acceptable but is a less used formulation. "I do 'manage to give' $50" is fine, but how often do people make a statement like that? I can afford my car payment every month, and I do afford my car payment every month are both acceptable and used but have subtle differences in meaning. – Doc Nov 18 '13 at 15:23
  • @Doc But we are not discussing the meaning of 'spare'. We are discussing 'afford'. And if the OED insists it means 'manage to give', how is it that someone who 'couldn't manage to give $50', actually gave $50? For that is the inevitable logic of 'spending more than you can afford', if 'afford' means what the OED says it does. 'Afford', in my view simply means 'give' which parallel's its other meaning, as in 'affording someone a common courtesy'. – WS2 Nov 18 '13 at 17:12

The premise of the topic is false. "Afford" is not always accompanied by "can." In the sense of this meaning, "to make available; provide" (Am. Her. Dict., 4e: def. 4), its use in this sentence is straightforward: "A walk in the woods on a beautiful autumn afternoon affords me great pleasure."

Granted, this does not resolve the question of why "afford" is accompanied by "can" in the sense of capability of giving up something of value, whether monetary or otherwise.

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  • This actually does explain the meaning of "can afford" quite satisfactorily, see my answer. – augurar Sep 7 '14 at 1:39

The question has been answered, but because the additional discussion wandered a bit, a brief summary seemed warranted.

Etymologically (OE geforthian, the ancestor of, among other things, ModE "further") and historically, "afford" means "advance, make available or possible."

In the senses indicating an ability or capacity to take advantage of an opportunity afforded by some development, the word requires a modal auxiliary, whether "can," "may," or some of the other suggestions made.

These are the meanings in the OED's section III, which specifies the need for an auxiliary. In Middle English, the auxiliary is "may" (MED aforthen (b)). Modern American dictionaries regrettably confuse matters by including the meaning of the auxiliary in the definition. Used without an auxiliary, "afford"'s meanings all derive from the sense of "further."

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The essential meaning of "to afford" is to provide or offer something.

Buying this car would afford me great pleasure.

The meaning is similar when used with can, except that the thing being provided is usually implicitly understood to be the cost or price of the verb's object. In your example,

I cannot afford this car.


I cannot provide the money needed to buy this car.

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From the OQ:

To me, "I cannot afford this car" means "I am not able to have enough money to be able to buy this car".

The reason can is used with afford is because people use the word afford as a substitute for the word provision or provide for or allocate/furnish funds for/to.

The common usage, per Wiktionary:

To give, grant, or confer, with a remoter reference to its being the natural result; to provide; to furnish.

Per the original quoted definition, afford is defined as [already] having the money to be able to pay for something. But people don't use that definition when they say "afford". That is to say, English usage of afford in this context is about furnishing of funds rather than having the funds.

"Can you afford to pay for that new widget?" Means: Are you able to furnish the funds to pay for the cost of the widget?

Yes, to afford means in one definition to have the money to be able to pay for something, but it's not just about having the money (to an English speaker). It's also whether the money can be furnished to pay for it.

Per questions:

Why not I do afford this car?

Because do [verb] is almost always used with thinking and feeling verbs, especially for emphasis:

I do like you.
I do like to see this movie.
I do think you're going to like this.

You're not going to do afford this car. You either can afford/furnish funds for the car or you pay for the car.

Q: Do you afford this car?
A: (Do I afford this car [what]?)


Q: Can you afford this car?
A: Yes

I do afford this car is incorrect simply because the statement isn't finished. That is to say, the sentence needs an explicit object that is being afforded to the car.

Rewording for I don't afford this car: no difference in the summary statement. The sentence needs an explicit object that is [not] being afforded to the car.

You don't afford the thing to do or to buy. You afford the means to do or buy.

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    You're still have to use can to say whether funds can be furnished or not. So why not use the auxiliary, do and don't, which is what the OP is asking about. "But "I don't afford this car" makes more sense to me." – Mari-Lou A Sep 7 '14 at 6:38
  • The OP never mentions "I do afford this car". The OP asks why "I don't afford this car" is unsuitable. The affirmative form would be: "I afford this car"; its question form: "Do you afford this car?" I think you're getting somewhere, esp with: "I do afford this car" is incorrect simply because the statement isn't finished but your argument is not watertight. Look at Barrie England's answer. – Mari-Lou A Sep 7 '14 at 12:23
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    @Mari-LouA I accounted for do/don't in the answer. Barrie England doesn't discount that there is no object, I'm just saying that in order for do afford to be correct, you're not affording the object to be purchased/event to occur, you're affording the medium (time/money). In essence, you don't afford a car. You do afford money or time. – SrJoven Sep 7 '14 at 12:38

Simply because 'I don't afford it' means something else. It is no different to 'I can't run', versus 'I don't run'.

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    Wonder what that 'something else' could be? – Kris Nov 18 '13 at 6:34
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    @Kris It is not common, but I have certainly heard it used. 'Since the prices increased I don't bother to afford a daily newspaper any longer'. You could also say 'She didn't afford me any courtesy whatever'. – WS2 Nov 18 '13 at 7:20
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    Your last example has a different meaning though, but it successfully illustrates that afford can be used with the auxiliary, do. You should expand your answer to better illustrate your explanation. – Mari-Lou A Nov 18 '13 at 9:01
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    @Mari-LouA You will see my comments on Barrie England's answer below. Now that Barrie has answered thus, with the backing of the OED, I am just as perplexed as the OP as to why we only use 'afford' with 'can' or 'can't'. The OP has spotted a thoroughly illogical use of the English language and deserves credit for that. – WS2 Nov 18 '13 at 12:17
  • It's not illogical at all, it's all to do with capacity but not always. Opportunities are afforded to us, for example. This question is still bugging me. I have the answer in my head, I'm just finding it a challenge to give a clear, unambiguous explanation. – Mari-Lou A Dec 2 '13 at 8:45

Can means to be able to.

Able means you have the necessary power, skill, resources, or qualifications.

Therefore, when you say "I can't afford it", it means that you don't have the capacity to afford it even if you want to.

On the other hand, when you say "I don't afford it", which I really don't hear most of the time, means you are not performing it and you don't want to afford it, even if you have the capacity.

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  • Your misuse of the word affords me the chance of correcting you. You might be able to say, “My finances don’t afford me the ability to pay for this,” but “I don’t afford it” is incorrect. – J. C. Salomon Nov 19 '13 at 23:02
  • @J.C.Salomon "I don't afford" is usually used incorrectly, but it isn't always incorrect. For example: "I have come to realize that I don't afford others the courtesy they deserve." – augurar Sep 7 '14 at 1:49
  • @augurar, I used that sense of the word afford in the comment you were replying to. – J. C. Salomon Oct 23 '14 at 12:54

In your native language, we use: "او نتوانست از پس هزینه‌ها برآید". It is very common here too.

I'm not really good at English but i think it's logical to use "can" here. I see it as if someone can't be able to achieve or manage or buy (afford) something even if he tries. For example when i say "I can't afford this car" means I can't be able to buy this car, even if i work 12 hours daily or ... So subject of ability in afford is having money and subject for ability in can't is doing anything to reach that ability, implicitly albeit.

And i searched for "I don't afford". I saw use cases are mostly related to situations which people want say that inability is temporal or they didn't put much energy on it.

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  • Your interpretation isn't entirely correct, to be able or unable to afford something can be a temporary condition: "I can't afford this car right now, but in a year I will have saved up enough money to buy it." – augurar Sep 7 '14 at 1:42

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