Do you believe VS Can you believe – Student question (With video!)

Do you believe  ⧬  Can you believe

In today’s post I’ll answer a real question that one of my private students here in Japan asked me. It’s a good one and I thought other people studying English might have the same question. 

My student asked me “What’s the difference between the phrases Do you believe and Can you believe? She heard one of these phrases in an English movie, and that made her think of this question.

The only difference is the first word of each sentence so I see how these are easy to confuse.

Do you believe / Can you believe

Let me explain the meaning of each:

Do you believe…?  Is asking… “Do you think something is true?” OR “…can be true?

Can you believe… is often used when we hear shocking or unexpected news. This is usually a rhetorical question, a rhetorical question is a question that we don’t need or want an answer to. *I’ll explain that in more detail below…


Here are some natural examples using 
Do you believe…?”

①”Jim said he shot 2 holes in one playing golf last weekend! Do you believe him?”
(This is hard to believe. I’m suspicious of his story. Do you think it’s true?)

hole in one, suspicious, do you believe?

②”Do you believe in ghosts?”
(Do you think ghosts are real?)

Do you think believe in ghossts?

③”The president says he is going to stop corruption in the government. Do you believe him? Politicians have a history of lying.”
(Do you think what he said is true? Is he being honest?)

Do you believe him?


Here are some natural examples using 
Can you believe…?”

①”Can you believe the boss said we can all leave early today! This is great!”

~ This is unexpected, but of course we are happy. Remember I said  at the beginning of this video that can you believe is usually a rhetorical question. Meaning we don’t need or want an answer.

I asked can you believe but I don’t expect an answer. it’s good news, it’s unexpected, but it’s a fact. It’s a surprising fact so it’s natural to say can you believe it, but I don’t expect an answer. I’m just excited because we can go home early! 

Can you believe the boss said we can all leave early today!

②”George and Christina are getting a divorce. Can you believe it? They always seemed so happy!”

~ The fact that George and Christina are getting a divorce is a surprise to me. I thought they were happy so this news is a shock.

Let’s turn this example into a short conversation and you can see how we naturally respond to rhetorical questions in conversation. 

Andy: George and Christina are getting a divorce. Can you believe it? They always seemed so happy!
Bruce: Wow! I just saw them last week at the coffee shop and they looked fine.
Andy: I know right! Everyone I have talked to is shocked to hear this.

~ In this conversation Bruce responds by saying “Wow!” then he mentions that he saw the couple last week. He never answers the question “can you believe it,” he never say yes or no. An answer is not expected. Andy is using “can you believe it” to show his shock and surprise at the fact that George and Christina are getting a divorce. 

They are getting a divorce. Can you believe it?

③”Mike won the lottery! $700,000! Can you believe it? Lucky guy!”

Mike won the lottery! Can you believe it?

#af-form-982804091 .af-body .af-textWrap{width:70%;display:block;float:right;} #af-form-982804091 .af-body .privacyPolicy{color:#000000;font-size:12px;font-family:, serif;} #af-form-982804091 .af-body a{color:#000000;text-decoration:underline;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;} #af-form-982804091 .af-body input.text, #af-form-982804091 .af-body textarea{background-color:#FFFFFF;border-color:#CCCCCC;border-width:2px;border-style:inset;color:#000000;text-decoration:none;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;font-size:18px;font-family:inherit;} #af-form-982804091 .af-body input.text:focus, #af-form-982804091 .af-body textarea:focus{background-color:inherit;border-color:#CCCCCC;border-width:2px;border-style:inset;} #af-form-982804091 .af-body label.previewLabel{display:block;float:left;width:25%;text-align:left;color:#050C8A;text-decoration:none;font-style:italic;font-weight:bold;font-size:16px;font-family:Times New Roman, serif;} #af-form-982804091 .af-body{padding-bottom:15px;padding-top:0px;background-repeat:no-repeat;background-position:inherit;background-image:none;color:#000000;font-size:12px;font-family:, serif;} #af-form-982804091 .af-footer{background-color:transparent;background-repeat:no-repeat;background-position:top left;background-image:none;border-bottom-style:none;border-left-style:none;border-right-style:none;border-top-style:none;color:#000000;font-family:, serif;} #af-form-982804091 .af-header{padding-bottom:0px;padding-top:0px;padding-right:0px;padding-left:0px;background-color:transparent;background-repeat:no-repeat;background-position:inherit;background-image:none;border-bottom-style:none;border-left-style:none;border-right-style:none;border-top-style:none;color:#000000;font-family:, serif;} #af-form-982804091 .af-quirksMode .bodyText{padding-top:2px;padding-bottom:2px;} #af-form-982804091 .af-quirksMode{padding-right:15px;padding-left:15px;} #af-form-982804091 .af-standards .af-element{padding-right:15px;padding-left:15px;} #af-form-982804091 .bodyText p{margin:1em 0;} #af-form-982804091 .buttonContainer input.submit{background-image:url(“”);background-position:top left;background-repeat:repeat-x;background-color:#0246bf;border:1px solid #0246bf;color:#000000;text-decoration:none;font-style:normal;font-weight:normal;font-size:18px;font-family:Georgia, serif;} #af-form-982804091 .buttonContainer input.submit{width:auto;} #af-form-982804091 .buttonContainer{text-align:center;} #af-form-982804091 body,#af-form-982804091 dl,#af-form-982804091 dt,#af-form-982804091 dd,#af-form-982804091 h1,#af-form-982804091 h2,#af-form-982804091 h3,#af-form-982804091 h4,#af-form-982804091 h5,#af-form-982804091 h6,#af-form-982804091 pre,#af-form-982804091 code,#af-form-982804091 fieldset,#af-form-982804091 legend,#af-form-982804091 blockquote,#af-form-982804091 th,#af-form-982804091 td{float:none;color:inherit;position:static;margin:0;padding:0;} #af-form-982804091 button,#af-form-982804091 input,#af-form-982804091 submit,#af-form-982804091 textarea,#af-form-982804091 select,#af-form-982804091 label,#af-form-982804091 optgroup,#af-form-982804091 option{float:none;position:static;margin:0;} #af-form-982804091 div{margin:0;} #af-form-982804091 fieldset{border:0;} #af-form-982804091 form,#af-form-982804091 textarea,.af-form-wrapper,.af-form-close-button,#af-form-982804091 img{float:none;color:inherit;position:static;background-color:none;border:none;margin:0;padding:0;} #af-form-982804091 input,#af-form-982804091 button,#af-form-982804091 textarea,#af-form-982804091 select{font-size:100%;} #af-form-982804091 p{color:inherit;} #af-form-982804091 select,#af-form-982804091 label,#af-form-982804091 optgroup,#af-form-982804091 option{padding:0;} #af-form-982804091 table{border-collapse:collapse;border-spacing:0;} #af-form-982804091 ul,#af-form-982804091 ol{list-style-image:none;list-style-position:outside;list-style-type:disc;padding-left:40px;} #af-form-982804091,#af-form-982804091 .quirksMode{width:100%;max-width:284px;}{overflow-x:hidden;} #af-form-982804091{background-color:transparent;border-color:inherit;border-width:none;border-style:none;} #af-form-982804091{display:block;} #af-form-982804091{overflow:hidden;} .af-body .af-textWrap{text-align:left;} .af-body input.image{border:none!important;} .af-body input.submit,.af-body input.image,.af-form .af-element input.button{float:none!important;} .af-body input.text{width:100%;float:none;padding:2px!important;} input.submit{padding:4px 12px;} .af-clear{clear:both;} .af-element label{text-align:left;display:block;float:left;} .af-element{padding-bottom:5px;padding-top:5px;} .af-form-wrapper{text-indent:0;} .af-form{text-align:left;margin:auto;} .af-header,.af-footer{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0;padding:10px;} .af-quirksMode .af-element{padding-left:0!important;padding-right:0!important;} .lbl-right .af-element label{text-align:right;} body { }

 Join my weekly English newsletter and get a copy of my e-book “5 Simple English Communication Tips”
Copy of newsletter blog.png



We respect your email privacy

// Special handling for facebook iOS since it cannot open new windows (function() { if (navigator.userAgent.indexOf(‘FBIOS’) !== -1 || navigator.userAgent.indexOf(‘Twitter for iPhone’) !== -1) { document.getElementById(‘af-form-982804091’).parentElement.removeAttribute(‘target’); } })(); <!– (function() { var IE = /*@cc_on!@*/false; if (!IE) { return; } if (document.compatMode && document.compatMode == 'BackCompat') { if (document.getElementById("af-form-982804091")) { document.getElementById("af-form-982804091").className = 'af-form af-quirksMode'; } if (document.getElementById("af-body-982804091")) { document.getElementById("af-body-982804091").className = "af-body inline af-quirksMode"; } if (document.getElementById("af-header-982804091")) { document.getElementById("af-header-982804091").className = "af-header af-quirksMode"; } if (document.getElementById("af-footer-982804091")) { document.getElementById("af-footer-982804091").className = "af-footer af-quirksMode"; } } })();


Was this post helpful for you?
Please share it with your friends!

Check out these other great posts too!

Easily confused English – notify VS notice 👀
~ Recently one of my private students confused the verbs notify and notice. Read my blog post and use these verbs correctly! 👍

How to use Neither and Either!
• Learn to use this grammar naturally 👍
• Link to my full page infographic 🖺
• Do an interactive quiz ❓

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s