Login for Free Services

English Grammar in Use – Unit 27: “Could”

could - English modal auxiliary – English modal auxiliary –

Could – English modal auxiliary – English Grammar in Use

Part A:

We use could in a number of ways. Sometimes could is the past of can (see Unit 26):
Listen. I can hear something. (now)
I listened. I could hear something. (past)

But could is not only used in this way. We also use could to talk about possible actions now or in
the future (especially to make suggestions). For example:

A: What shall we do tonight?
B: We could go to the cinema.
A: When you go to Paris next month, you could stay with Sarah.
B: Yes, I suppose I could.

Can is also possible in these sentences (‘We can go to the cinema.’ etc.). Could is less sure than can.

Part B:

Please note that the focus of this course is: Could – English Modal Auxiliary

We also use could (not can) for actions that are not realistic. For example:
I’m so tired, I could sleep for a week. (not I can sleep for a week)
Compare can and could:
I can stay with Sarah when I go to Paris. (realistic)
We could go to the cinema.
Maybe I could stay with Sarah when I go to Paris. (possible, but less sure)
This is a wonderful place. I could stay here for ever. (unrealistic)

Part C:

We also use could (not can) to say that something (a situation or a happening) is possible now or in
the future. The meaning is similar to might or may (see Unit 29):
The story could be true, but I don’t think it is. (not can be true)
I don’t know what time Lisa is coming. She could get here at any time.
Compare can and could:
The weather can change very quickly in the mountains. (in general)
The weather is nice now, but it could change. (the weather now, not in general)

Part D:

We use could have (done) to talk about the past. Compare:
I’m so tired, I could sleep for a week. (now)
I was so tired, I could have slept for a week. (past)
The situation is bad, but it could be worse. (now)
The situation was bad, but it could have been worse. (past)
Something could have happened = it was possible but did not happen:
Why did you stay at a hotel when you were in Paris? You could have stayed with Sarah.
(you didn’t stay with her)
David was lucky. He could have hurt himself when he fell, but he’s OK.

Part E:

We use couldn’t to say that something would not be possible:
I couldn’t live in a big city. I’d hate it. (= it wouldn’t be possible for me)
Everything is fine right now. Things couldn’t be better.
For the past we use couldn’t have (done):
We had a really good holiday. It couldn’t have been better.
The trip was cancelled last week. Paul couldn’t have gone anyway because he was ill.
(= it would not have been possible for him to go)

Leave your questions or comments below.

Please Login to comment
Notify of

Login and join this discussion.

This topic contains 1 reply, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Sasan 2 days, 20 hours ago.

  • Author
  • #40593

    Dr. Hariri

    Would you rather be happy yet slow-witted and unimaginative, or unhappy yet bright and creative? For instance, would you rather live the life of a brilliant yet tortured artist, such as Vincent van Gogh, or that of a happy but carefree soul who is a bit simple-minded?

  • #40672


    I prefer to challenge this question at first and bring up my viewpoint next.
    There are different successful people in the world who reached the apex through different procedures. Although some have faced torture to reach their goals, it does not mean we have to necessarily lose something in our life to climb the ladder of success. Anyway, I suppose the most enjoyable part of life is making progress and relying on your abilities to flourish and thrive. So, I personally go for intelligence and innovation rather than happiness along with naivety. Many people have lived an ordinary life so far and repeating this story can never excite me at all. We need to gain new adventurous experiences and foster our abilities so as to break out of comfort zone.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Close Menu