• I can go there.
  • I could go there.

In these sentences, when spoken, how is the meaning altered by putting stress/emphasis on the words can and could?

  • 1
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    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 15:02
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    Does "give emphatic on" mean 'contrastively stress'? That's the only sense I can make of the question. Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 15:04
  • Yes, I went there.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 15:21
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    It simply means that you're contradicting any possible statement that you can't or couldn't go there. There's no semantic difference, only a pragmatic difference in how strongly you express the meaning. And btw, this has nothing to do with can or could -- any word in a sentence can be contrastively stressed. Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 15:23

3 Answers 3


Without stress, saying "I can go there" or "I could go there" means that going there is within your capability, and implies you probably will.

With stress, saying "I can go there" or "I could go there" means that although going there is within your capability, you probably will choose to not exercise that option.

  • Also, to me, stressing can implies that you want (better) compensation for going there, while stressing could implies that you don't really want to go there and is prepared to provide excuses. Commented Jun 19, 2015 at 1:22

"I can go there" contradicts a suggestion that you can't go there. "I could go there" implies that you won't go there, even though you could. Since "could" has an interpretation "used to be able to", another way of construing "I could go there" is that it implies you can't go there any longer, even though you used to be able to.

These interpretations follow from (1) the fact that strong stress is often contrastive, so there is something to contrast the emphasized word with, and (2) when you say something, there should be some point to what you are saying.

I suppose there are other interpretations possible, but these are the first that came to mind.

  • "You can go there" might very well imply that you shouldn't. It depends on the context. "You could go there" might often be used when "there" is an option, but a better one is about to be suggested or inferred.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 17:00

Can or Could? A modal auxiliary verb or a helping verb is used to modify the mood of the verb. It is important to know that these “modal verbs” have no meaning by themselves.

Can: is used to express ability, willingness, permission, or possibility. The negative form of can is “cannot” or the contraction “can’t”.

Could: has at least three key functions: 1) It can replace “can” to give more conditional tone to a phrase. 2)It is used as a past tense of “can”. 3)It can function as suggesting that something is a possibility.

For more details and practice: visit https://www.biglearners.com/worksheets/grade-4/english/grammar/use-modal-auxiliaries

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