“Could” + Present Simple / Present Perfect

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Welcome to your “Could” + Present Simple / Present Perfect lesson! In this topic we talk about:
• “Could” and “Can”
Unrealistic situations
Talking about the future
Talking about the past
“Couldn’t”
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“Could” and “Can”

“Could” can be used in many ways:

“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.
(realistic)

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

I love the beach, I could stay there all day.
(unrealistic)

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.
(now)

I was so hungry, I could have eaten a horse.
(past)

 

The room is dirty, but it could be dirtier.
(now)

The room was dirty, but it could have been dirtier.”
(past)

“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)

“Couldn’t”

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.

Recap

  • “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”.

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