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Suddenly came up with a thought that the sentence below could have two meanings due to the "so ~ that" structure.

  • I'm so happy that I can sing.

If the sentence had no "so", it would mean that the speaker is happy due to the fact that he can sing. But since it has "so happy that" it occurs to me that it could have two meanings. The first meaning I find it could have is: The speaker is so happy as to sing. The second one is: The speaker is happy due to the fact that he can sing. Not only about this particular sentence, but about other sentences which have "so ~ that" structure, would they be interpreted in two ways? How the sentence is interpreted, is it up to the context the sentence is involved?

Thanks.

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    It would never be interpreted as the latter, because in English, that sense is expressed by a hypothetical: “I'm not actually going to do it, but my level of happiness right now is such that it would be possible for me to start singing” (basically). In that sense, the phrase would be “I'm so happy I could sing”. Your phrase will only be understood as you being happy about your ability to sing. The past tense version is ambiguous, however. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 11 '15 at 10:34
  • "I was so happy that I could have sung"? – Brian Hitchcock Jan 12 '15 at 12:11
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, did you really mean "latter" as being the problem? I think I agree with you -- see my answer below -- because you're making the same distinction I am. But for me it's the former meaning that is the problem and would need the can/could switch. – tkp Jan 14 '15 at 5:06
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I think only your second meaning can sensibly attach to the sentence. For example, someone deaf from birth undergoes an operation and gains their hearing. They are then asked how they feel about things. They reply:

Well, I love being able to hear the birds and also being able to talk clearly. And, oh, of course, I am so happy that I can sing!

To achieve the first meaning, then the usual idiom would need "can" replaced by "could". So, you ask someone who has just won the lottery, how happy are they. They reply:

Oh I'm delighted. Ecstatic! In fact, I'm so happy that I could sing!

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