What is the difference between the question phrased as "Do you want to (some verb e.g. go)" vs. "Can you (some verb e.g. go)?

What these questions indicate? Which one has request notaion? Which one has the notion of your willingness?

Thanks, A

closed as off-topic by Janus Bahs Jacquet, Brian Hooper, Matt E. Эллен, anongoodnurse, choster Jan 2 '14 at 15:48

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  • 6
    ‘Want to’ and ‘can’ mean completely different things. Have you tried figuring this out yourself? Looked in a dictionary? If so, please include what you’ve found and exactly what it is you’re still unsure about in your question. All questions on StackExchange should show that the asker has made an effort to find an answer before asking here. You may also want to visit our sister site, English Language Learners, which I guess would be more suitable. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 2 '14 at 12:36
  • I think you didn't understand the question. That's ok. Let me be more specific. Does following two question mean the same or different? If different, what's the difference? question "Do you want to give me the book?" vs. "Can you give me the book?". – user61151 Jan 2 '14 at 13:22
  • You might want to visit English Language Learners; you can find it here. It is very helpful in answering basic questions like these. – anongoodnurse Jan 2 '14 at 15:02

The word can usually indicates physical or mental ability to do something:

Can you lift 100 pounds (50 kilos) over your head?

Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?

Jim can speak three languages. How many languages can you speak?

The word want indicates desire and willingness to have or possess something (or someone):

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you can get what you need" (Rolling Stones)

I want to fly to Paris some day.

Do you want to come with me to the store?

What do you want for Christmas? All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth. (The answer comes from an old, popular Christmas song.)

Many Americans confuse the words can and may, which is OK in informal speech. There is a difference between the two words, however:

Can I have another cookie, please? (Incorrect)

May I have another cookie, please? (Correct)

The former sentence has nothing to do with physical or mental ability, so the word can is inappropriate. The latter sentence is a polite way of asking someone for a cookie. May is a substitute for "would it be OK with you" if I were to have another cookie, or "do I have your permission" to have another cookie?

Can I leave now? (Incorrect, because normally a person has the physical ability to get up and walk away.) What he means to say is

May I leave now? (Correct, because he is asking for permission to leave, assuming the other person might say either yes or no.)

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