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An email from my American colleague says:

If there is a transaction you could have saved data.

I don't quite understand his specific tone by the "could have saved". Why not just say "you can save data"?

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closed as not a real question by FumbleFingers, Kris, RegDwigнt Oct 31 '12 at 10:04

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I agree with your confusion. The sentence does not seem grammatical. Perhaps with more context it might make sense. – JAM Oct 31 '12 at 2:31
This is General Reference. If we assume the writer has a reasonable command of English, he can only mean you could have [some] saved data, as @ruakh says. Any other interpretation would have to assume the writer doesn't understand English verb tenses. – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '12 at 3:24
This could've been closed as GR for sure. Voting to close. – Kris Oct 31 '12 at 4:04
The sentence is perfect and makes sense as it should. If there's anything unclear in the sentence, it is because of a lack of understanding of the context (domain knowledge). – Kris Oct 31 '12 at 4:05
@Irwin: As pretty much everyone on this page has pointed out, we need further context. As it stands, this is not a question but a guessing game that's not helping anyone — least of all yourself. – RegDwigнt Oct 31 '12 at 10:08
up vote 1 down vote accepted

I see two ways to interpret this grammatically.

  1. "If there is a transaction, it is possible that you have data that was saved." (thanks to ruakh)
  2. "If there is a transaction, by doing something different than a transaction you could have used less data resources."

An example of the second form:

If you have a gold watch, you could have saved money. (i.e. by not having bought that watch).

The ambiguity comes from the fact that "save data" can mean different things:

  • to store data
  • to use less data
  • to rescue data from danger (unlikely in this context).
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So there is a grammatical description of "could have done". What's the difference with "could do". – Irwin Oct 31 '12 at 3:51
"If you can eat, you could have learned to play the piano." compared to "If you can eat, you could learn to play the piano." In these two phrases, the only difference is the past versus present. Some people might take the past example to imply that it doesn't apply to the present situation. Also the past example implies that you could know how to play the piano in the present (if you had done something different in the past). – Xantix Oct 31 '12 at 3:58

Without more context, it's hard to be certain; but I'm guessing that what he means is this:

If there is a transaction, it is possible that you have data that has been saved.

In other words, I'm guessing that it's "{could have} {saved data}", with saved being a participial modifier for data, not "{could have saved} data".

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@Kris Domain knowledge is context. – user867 Oct 31 '12 at 5:38
@user867: FWIW, I liked your catchier version better. Moreover, I believe it's an accurate statement (not that there aren't other ways to provide context, but domain knowledge often is that proverbial missing piece of the puzzle). – J.R. Oct 31 '12 at 9:20
@Kris: Re: "It's not context but domain knowledge that's needed": I don't know how you decided that. When I said "more context", I meant exactly "more context": the rest of the e-mail, or the rest of the e-mail chain. You know -- context. It's possible that, given the rest of the e-mail chain, my next response would be, "O.K., wow, turns out I need more domain knowledge, too." But I think I probably already do have enough domain knowledge: I have a lot of experience with databases, transactions, etc. (And anyway, that seems like a rather bizarre reason for a downvote!) – ruakh Oct 31 '12 at 13:08
@Kris: Sorry, I have no idea what you're trying to say. You gave this answer a downvote on the grounds that it used the term "context" where you thought I meant "domain knowledge". (Right?) So, firstly, I clarified that no, I really meant "context": I think I probably do have the requisite domain knowledge; what I needed was context. And secondly, I commented that even if I had meant "domain knowledge", and had used the wrong term, this would be a bizarre reason for you to downvote the answer. Got it? – ruakh Oct 31 '12 at 15:06
@Kris: I disagree. Even if Irwin's American colleague were describing a software feature that I myself had recently implemented, such that I had 100% complete, perfect domain knowledge, I would need the context (the rest of the conversation) in order to understand the sentence, because without the context, I would have no way of knowing that it was what he was describing. First context, then (perhaps) domain knowledge. And I still have no idea what your comment from 14:53 was trying to say! – ruakh Oct 31 '12 at 15:41

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