COULD + Present Simple or Present Perfect

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Welcome to your COULD + Present Simple / Present Perfect lesson! In this topic we talk about:


Unrealistic situations.

Talking about the future.

Talking about the past.


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COULD can be used in many ways:

  • COULD is the past of CAN :

I can play the piano.

When he was alive, my grandfather could play the piano.

  • COULD can also be used for the present, especially to make suggestions:

What shall we do tonight?
I don’t know, we could go to the restaurant.

When you go to the coast, you could stay at my friend’s house.

In both of those examples, CAN can also be used, but using COULD means the situation is less sure.

Unrealistic situations

We only use COULD when we talk about unrealistic situations, or when we exaggerate:

I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.
(not CAN)

I’m so tired, I could sleep for a month.
(not CAN)

Have a look at these sentences:

We can go to the beach now.

We could go to the beach tomorrow.
(possible, less sure)

I love the beach, I could stay there all day.

Talking about the future

We use COULD, (not CAN) to say that something is possible now or in the future. The meaning is similar to MIGHT and MAY :

The story could be true, but I don’t think it is.

I don’t know when the bus will arrive, it could get here at any moment.

Talking about the past

We use the Present Perfect with COULD to talk about the past:

I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.

I was so hungry, I could have eaten a horse.


The room is dirty, but it could be dirtier.

The room was dirty, but it could have been dirtier.

“Something could have happened” means that it was possible, but it didn’t happen:

We could have gone to the restaurant last night.
(we didn’t go)

I didn’t know that you were hungry, I could have made dinner.
(I didn’t make it)


When we want to say that something would not be possible now, we use COULDN’T:

I couldn’t live in the mountains, I would hate it.

Things couldn’t be better for me!

For the past, we use COULDN’T HAVE:

We had a great meal, it couldn’t have been better.

He couldn’t have been any kinder, I really liked him.


  • COULD is the past of CAN.
  • COULD is used for unrealistic situations.
  • COULD is used to say something is possible in the future. Similar to MAY and MIGHT.
  • COULD is used with the Present Perfect to talk about the past.
  • The opposite of COULD is COULDN’T.