I'm confused as to when one should use "can" and "could" before verbs such as "feel", "hear" and "see".

Does it make a difference in any way when you do include "can" or "could" in front of a verb of perception?

Here are some example of sentences using the perceptive verb "feel". Some use "can" before it, others don't. Does it make a difference to the meaning?

  1. I feel someone grab me from behind.
  2. I can feel his body tense next to mine.
  3. I feel a strange calm as I look at him.
  4. I can feel the anger boiling up inside me.


closed as unclear what you're asking by user240918, Rory Alsop, Mari-Lou A, Nigel J, Dan Bron Mar 1 '18 at 2:05

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In the examples 1 and 3 you acutally do feel something with no alternative of not doing it. You can not actually miss the grabing hand except you had a numb area on your skin.

In those cases with odd numbers there is actually a possibilty not to feel because of (let's call it) missing empathy.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. I believe the question involves use of "can". and "could" , rather than whether the senses are actually involved. – J. Taylor Feb 28 '18 at 10:01
  • If I understand correctly, you are asking if there is a difference between 'I feel X' and 'I can feel X'. No, I don't think there is. – Kate Bunting Feb 28 '18 at 10:09
  • I think you've come up with what might be the nub of the answer here. But I'll need a bit of time to really think about it. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 28 '18 at 11:14
  • Yes; I think one usually uses 'feel/felt' when it would be remarkable not to, and 'can/could feel' when others less perceptive in the relevant domain might well not do. // There are, as might be expected, grey areas: 4'/4" I felt / could feel the anger boiling up inside me. // 5' / 5" She felt / could feel his eyes upon her. Probably, the punctive / durative aspect involved also informs choice here. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 28 '18 at 11:28