A student once asked me What’s the difference between the questions – 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.
Do you believe…? is asking: “Do you think something is true?” OR “…can be true?
“Do you believe his promise?”
Can you believe…? is often used when we hear shocking or unexpected news. This is more of an exclamation than a question.
“Can you believe I bowled a perfect game last night?”
Keep reading for a more detailed explanation and lots of natural example sentences that you can start using right away.
Do you believe it OR Can you believe it?
The only difference is the first word of each sentence so I see how these are easy to confuse. DO vs. CAN
Let me explain the meaning of each with some clear examples.
Do you believe..?
- “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?
Here are some natural examples using “Do you believe…?”
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
(Do you think ghosts are real?)
- “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?)
Can you believe..?
This expression 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…
- We went to the bowling alley last night and George bowled a perfect game. Can you believe it?
It’s rare that someone can bowl a perfect game. I saw this and I’m using the expression Can you believe it? to show my surprise.
Here are some natural examples using “Can you believe…?”
- ”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 post 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!
- ”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 at the coffee shop last week, and they looked fine.
- Andy: I know right! Everyone I have talked to is shocked to hear this.
”Mike won the lottery! $700,000! Can you believe it? Lucky guy!”
Do you believe it OR Can you believe it? VIDEO
Improve your English listening skills while you review this grammar.
Rhetorical Question Examples from –http://examples.yourdictionary.com/rhetorical-question-examples.html