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Here's a scenario. I am confounded when after a discussion with a friend, they arrive at my place on Saturday, here's the transcript.

her: I can make it on Saturday.

me: Ok, see you then anytime!

her: I will leave on Monday.

me: Ok.

her: Booked!

--- time passes ---

her: Where were you on Saturday?

me: I thought you where leaving on Monday.

her: I told you I would be there on Saturday!

So she thought she would come on Saturday, and stay until Monday. I thought she meant that she would leave to arrive here on Monday.

Is either or both or none of us grammatically correct with our arrival date, why? What is the correct precedence of "can" and "will" in this context? Where is the ambiguity that lead to two different interpretations?


Some interesting insights from #English

smgs: "Modals aren't that simple"

mun: "[Can/Will Precedence?] I just read the passage in chronological order and interpreted it as [offer/assert arrival date] [offer/assert departure date]"

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In spite of knowing the warnings against making assumptions, I'm going to base my answer on the following assumptions:

1 - That if she had said "Booked" and nothing more after you enthusiastically responded "Ok, see you then [Saturday] anytime!" you would have interpreted this to mean that she was arriving on Saturday;

2 - That your "specifying" that "anytime [on Saturday]" would be fine for her arrival meant that the time of her arrival was a fact that you deemed important enough to discuss; and

3 - That you knew that she was not planning on both arriving and departing on the same day, be it Saturday or Monday.

With these assumptions in mind, I agree with the other answers given so far that the scenario you present totally justifies her belief/interpretation that she would arrive at the destination [at anytime] on Saturday, stay there for two nights, and then depart from it on Monday.

Regarding assumption #1, you apparently interpreted, as she did, the "make it" to mean "arrive at the destination," which is the normal, perhaps even the only interpretation of "make it" in this part of the exchange (whereas your later interpretation of "leaving" to also mean "arrive at the destination" [after "leaving" the point of departure], is not, however, the normal interpretation of "leaving" in this or any other scenario, and your rather convoluted interpretation of "leaving" was, IMO, the SOLE source of confusion and ambiguity in this exchange).

Regarding assumption #2, in your simple "OK" response to her "leaving" on Monday you failed to make any mention or inquiry about what her "arrival" time on Monday would be, which was inconsistent with your having been so careful to let her know that "anytime" would be great on Saturday and which supports her interpretation of the total exchange.

Regarding assumption #3, if you knew that she would not be leaving the destination on the same day as her arrival at it, it seems that you would have expressed at least some interest as to how long she was planning to stay and your failure to do so further supports your would-be guest's interpretation of the total exchange.

I really don't see any ambiguity arising because of "will" taking precedence over "can" unless you can honestly say that the entire mess could have been totally avoided if she had simply started the exchange with "I'll (be able to) make it on Saturday" instead of "I can make it on Saturday."

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I'm not sure I understand where the problem is, but if she said she could make it on Saturday, then she meant to be at your place on Saturday. The later statement that she would leave on Monday comes after she has spent some time thinking about the plan, and has decided she has to leave her place on Monday in order to keep the appointment on Saturday, or that she can only stay until the Monday after the Saturday appointment. In no interpretation of that statement does it change her agreement to keep the Saturday appointment.

Your interpretation of the later statement, "I will leave on Monday," was incorrect.

  • One interpretation is that "will" is an imperative, a definitive. Where "can" is a possibility. Given the precedence: Saturday loses its significance, and Mondays statement becomes "I will leave my present location to come visit you on Monday". – UnknownEntity Jan 24 '15 at 11:37
  • I see your point, but I cannot think of a single case in which "leaving" can be interpreted as "arriving." In light of that, I cannot see where distinction between "can" and "will" affects the meaning of "leave on Monday." – Cindy Page Jan 24 '15 at 12:05
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I would mirror Cindy's answer: she provides two different pieces of information, an arrival day and a departure day, so neither overrides the other; the relative strength of "can" and "will" don't come into it.

She does not say whether Monday is when she must depart her current location to reach your location, or when she must depart your location for some other unspecified reason; but this can probably be inferred from which day the discussion occurs on, and whether five days would be a reasonable travel time.

  • You are correct that I did not make a distinction between the possible reasons for her statement, "I will leave on Monday." I knew that travel time could be relevant to the meaning, but did not say so. Thank you for pointing that out. – Cindy Page Jan 24 '15 at 11:42
  • Thanks martin. Two different pieces of information, each with their own declarative verbs with two different meanings. Isn't 'possible inferences' a basis for ambiguity? – UnknownEntity Jan 24 '15 at 11:48

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