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Can I see / Can you show me

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8 Apr 2004
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Dear native English speakers,
Would (a) and (b) have the same meaning?
(a) Can I see your notebook?
(b) Can you show me your notebook?

Thanks in advance.
21 Jun 2017
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They can, but usually, not quite. Most typically, "Can I see..." is just asking for permission to look at the thing (and there may be an implication that you want them to hand the item to you), while "Can you show me..." is a request for them to actively show you the thing. Just as an example:

"Can I see your photo album?"

This is something you might say if you want them to hand the photo album to you so you can get a closer look (perhaps to inspect the cover or something), or if you want to get a closer look at whatever they're looking at at the time.

"Can you show me your photo album?"

This is something you would be most likely to say if you want them to give you a tour through their photo album, so to speak.

The difference is very subtle and often not that important, so the meaning can be the same in some contexts. I would expect it to usually be about the same for a notebook, though it might depend on what's in the notebook.

I think it's more or less analogous to 見る vs 見せる, but my Japanese is very poor, so don't quote me on that.
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