I ask this because I am unable to understand the uses of could and can ?

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  • 3
    I'm confused by what you are asking. Your question in the title and your question in the body seem to be asking for two different things. First, you ask for a definition of an idiomatic phrase, and second, you ask for a distinction between "could" and "can". You've also showed no attempt to research any solution. A quick Google search for "could can" reveals a number of sources discussing this distinction. – Nick2253 Oct 30 '14 at 16:49

The word could in your sentence expresses a hypothetical, yet-to-be state of mind. In effect, the sentence means:

"Given the opportunity, I would really appreciate getting away from here. I need a break, a time to relax and recharge my batteries."

Another way of expressing the same thought:

"If given the opportunity, I would really appreciate being given a break from this place."

Again, the person expresses the notion of something which has yet to happen, and does so with a bit more emphasis than if he had used the word could. Chances are, the speaker would emphasize the word really. Notice, too, that the extra word appreciate adds a new wrinkle to the sentence, and in effect creates more emphasis. In other words, the speaker has not yet been given a break, but given the chance, he would certainly appreciate being given a break. Perhaps he is extremely tired.

The word can denotes the physical ability to do something. In grade school, when a 7-year old child asks the teacher,

"Can I go to the bathroom?"

the teacher might say,

"Well, I certainly hope you can!"

That is the teacher's way of correcting the child's grammar, since the correct way of expressing that question is:

"May I go to the bathroom?"

Keeping in mind that can expresses physical ability, which of the following sentences is correct?

  1. I can use a glass of water. [said by someone who is thirsty]

  2. I can balance a glass of water on my forehead.

If you said "two," you'd be correct. To correct the first sentence, simply replace can with could, and the person is in effect saying

If I were to be given a glass of water, I would surely accept it, because boy, am I thirsty!

In conclusion, can expresses the ability to do something in the present, but could expresses a real or hypothetical desire to do something in the future.

  • I could balance a glass of water on my head, if I wanted to.

  • I can balance a glass of water on my head, and I'll show you I can do it right now!


Could implies that something might be possible or the speaker wishes it might be possible. Can means that something is possible. For example you might say "I could buy a car if I had the money" - the money condition needs to be true to make the buying possible. If you say "I can buy a car" then you imply that you have enough money.

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