This lesson helps us understand when to use could in English. Could is one of the most commonly used modal verbs in English as it is used in a variety of situations. This lesson focuses on all the different situations where the modal could is used or can be used.
All usages of could in English
Could is one of the modal verbs in English that we use almost on a daily basis. But a lot of us confuse it with can. Therefore, it becomes quintessential for us to learn it separately and understand all its unique usages.
1. Past ability or possibility
One common use of could is to talk about your ability to do something in the past. We use can when the possibility or ability we are referring to is in the present.
Present: I can convince him easily.
Past: I could convince him, but the management did not let me talk to him.
Present: We can’t sleep with these kids being here. They annoy me.
Past: We could not sleep there. The kids were annoying us.
Present: I can help you if you want.
Past: I could help you finish the assignment on time. Why did you not call me?
Present: Jon can speak 4 languages.
Past: I could speak Chinese a little when I was in school.
NOTE: We use can when we refer to someone’s ability or the possibility of an event in the present but it is grammatically fine to use could either.
- I could easily beat you in chess. I am a gold medalist in it.
- I am not sure If you could eat this all in 10 minutes. I am not that hungry either.
2. Polite requests
Another common use of could is to make polite requests to others.
- Could you move a little to your left?
- Could you take a photo of us?
- Could you help me with this?
NOTE: Using the word ‘please’ makes the request even more polite. Use it to come across as a polite and humble person.
- Could you please pass that water bottle?
- Could the management please let me take charge of this project?
- Could you please get me something to eat?
- Could you all please make the payment tonight?
It is important to note that the modal verbs could, would, and even can are also used to make requests.
- Could you show me the way to the washroom?
- Can you show me the way to the washroom?
- Would you show me the way to the washroom?
- Would/Do you mind showing me the way to the washroom?
Could, amongst all the other modal verbs, is considered more polite and formal though.
3. Asking for permission
We generally use could when asking for permission from people. There is a significant difference between making a request and asking for permission. The latter seeks a nod from an authoritative person, and the former usually looks for outside help.
Both the modal verbs could and may are commonly used to ask for permission. We, informally, use the modal verb can too here.
- Could I use your laptop for a day?
- Could I stay here for a night?
- Could Annie and I go on a date tonight?
- Could we park our car in your parking lot for some days?
4. To refer to the possibility of an event
Could is also used to refer to the possibility of a situation in the present, past, or future. Let’s study some examples to understand.
- It could rain today. The sky looks dark.
- We could lose this match if we don’t play well.
- This project has a lot of potential in it; it could make us a millionaire.
- I could die there. Why did you leave me alone with those goons?
- We could have gotten the contract if we had hired professionals to represent us.
- They could ask you to give up your post in the meeting tomorrow. Don’t do it at any cost.
- She could get a call from the university next week.
- I could be offered a full-time job in the organization very soon.
NOTE: we can also use may, might, or can to refer to the possibility of an event/situation. May indicates a positive possibility, and might indicates a little less positive possibility, while can is considered informal by grammarians to use for talking about the possibility of a situation.
- You could get selected for this post.
- You may get selected for this post. (likely to happen)
- You might get selected for this post. (less likely to happen)
- You can get selected for this post. (just stating that it is possible)
5. To give suggestions
We often use could to give suggestions. It is considered very polite and formal.
Ashish: I am getting bored. Let’s do something interesting.
Mangesh: We could go go-carting today.
Jyoti: It’s my cousin’s wedding next week, and I don’t know what to wear.
Sneha: You could wear the lehnga I bought last month. It would look good on you.
Teacher: What should we do today to sharpen our communication skills?
Student: We could try mirror practice, sir. It works miraculously well.
Jon: Why are you sitting here? Let’s do something fun.
Monica: I am not sure, man. It’s cold outside.
Ravina: That’s right, and we don’t have money either.
Ashish: We all could go to my place and play video games. That would be fun.
6. Past tense of CAN
Can is changed into could in the indirect speech.
Direct speech: “We can do this”, Jon said.
Indirect speech: Jon said that we could do that.
Direct speech: My mother said to me, “I can get the part If I work hard”.
Indirect speech: My mother told me that I could get the part If I worked hard.
Direct speech: Riya said, “India can win the match”.
Indirect speech: Riya said that India could win the match.
Direct speech: “We can’t get him back”, the boss said.
Indirect speech: The boss said that we couldn’t get him back.
7. Conditional sentences
Could is used in different conditional sentences we indicate the possibility of an event.
- If we still work as a team, we could get this deal. (type 1 conditional)
- If you apologized to her, she could forgive you. (type 2 conditional)
- He could have been saved if the doctors reached there on time. (type 3 conditional)
- I could come to your party yesterday If I didn’t have an exam tomorrow. (mixed conditional)
Now, we know how and where to use Could in English. Feel free to share your question, doubt, or feedback in the comment section, and also, share the post with the people that need it.
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