In general, “can’t” is a contraction of “cannot”, which means not able to or not allowed to.
Here are hand picked examples of using “can’t” in questions in the TED corpus. We found them using the query:
can't * ?
Yes/no questions are rarer:
- And can’t we become a community that plants seeds?
By far, the most common questions include the question word “why”:
- Why can’t we do the same for the ocean?
- So why can’t we design a voting process that is as convenient as that?
- Why can’t they get course credit in other ways?
- Why can’t it be a garden street lined with trees, where people can actually meet and walk to the baker and kids can walk to school?
- So, being young and naïve and a little bit ignorant, I thought: why can’t we create therapies that mutate and transmit and replicate?
- They’re asking, why are vaccines — and these are the kinds of things we’re hearing in our social media — why can’t my child have a personalized vaccination schedule?
- Why can’t we build tiny robots?
- Why can’t we talk about periods?
- Like, you didn’t get pregnant, so why can’t it hang around?
- I asked myself, why can’t we escape this vicious cycle?
- So we thought: Why can’t we use this in East Africa to help farmers?
- So if every other organization measures success this way, why can’t we do that in policing?
- So, why can’t we rely on these studies to establish causal relationships between substances and their effects on health?
- After all, most studies of déjà vu are based on first-hand accounts, so why can’t one be yours?
- Indeed, what can’t we do if we work together as one in the face of this pandemic?
Without a following bare infinitive:
- I mean, nature can do it. Why can’t we?
- But why can’t they?
- Can’t the way that you feel be concealed about it? (passive)
- Can’t pictures and videos like these persuade people who have become insensitive to facts to rethink?
- Now, we think, if a poor country like Cuba can have these kind of resources, and we know that they’re a poor country, then why can’t some of the other wealthier countries, like the United States of America, do the same?
With the adverb ‘just‘, these are considered B2:
- Why can’t we just regulate it?
- Now, you might be thinking, “Well, can’t you just set your social media on private?”
- At one point we just asked, “What is it about caring for your aunt? Can’t you just pay somebody to do it?”
- Can’t we just keep celebrating the way we’ve been doing for a century, without having to delve into all this serious research?
- Can’t you just look on food labels?
We believe existential ‘there’ + BE with negative modality in a question marks C1 ability:
In the English Grammar Profile, B1 point 75 in MODALITY is defined as:
negative question forms in main clauses and question tags.
*Also, note that this overlaps negation in questions at B1.
This is proving very hard to search for in corpora. They do not like negative modal variable-length queries with question marks at the end.
The best we could find was to try
ca_vm _x _p _vvi on iWeb:
1 CAN’T YOU SEE 2062
2 CAN’T I GET 627
3 CAN’T I SEE 622
4 CAN’T I USE 479
5 CAN’T I FIND 454
6 CAN’T WE GET 395
7 CAN’T YOU GET 340
8 CAN’T YOU TELL 284
9 CAN’T YOU USE 251
10 CAN’T YOU MAKE 238
11 CAN’T YOU HEAR 236
12 CAN’T WE USE 211
13 CAN’T YOU TAKE 181
14 CAN’T THEY MAKE 175
15 CAN’T YOU FIND 165
16 CAN’T YOU LIVE 146
17 CAN’T WE SEE 145
18 CAN’T YOU GO 143
19 CAN’T I LOG 141
20 CAN’T WE MAKE 141
1 CAN’T YOU? 939
2 CAN’T WE? 635
3 CAN’T I? 532
4 CAN’T THEY? 273
5 CAN’T IT? 212
6 CAN’T HE? 143
7 CAN’T SHE? 68