Hy, everyone! I was researching the uses of 'could' on this website---------> https://www.englishpractice.com/improve/uses-of-can-and-could/ and I found these 4 sentences in the To talk about possibility or uncertainty section:

You could win, if you worked hard. (Possibility)

She could pass if she studied hard. (Possibility)

I could have helped him if he had asked me.

If I had the money I could buy a car.

Now, I have to ask that why they have written 3 sentences (1st, 2nd and 4th) using 'could' and one sentence (3rd) using 'could have', whereas all sentences have the same meaning (or, so, I think). What's the difference between 'could' and 'could have'? And, are there any similarities between 'could' and 'could have'?

There's one thing more. I've noticed, in 1st and 2nd sentence, they've used 'could' only (not 'could have') in the first part of the sentence and in the second part of the sentence, there's no 'had'. So, is it, like, this that when the other part of the sentence doesn't have 'had', don't use 'could have', just use 'could' and when the other part of the sentence has 'had', use 'could have' just as they've done in 3rd sentence.

Also, if that's the case, then, notice, in the 4th sentence, 'had' HAS come, in the other part, but there's only 'could' (not 'could have'). I'm so much confused with these modals! Help me!

  • The 'could have' part goes together with the 'had' part only because they occurred in the past. I could have = Maybe I wanted to help, but that depended on other things. If he had asked me = The dependency is that he needed to ask, but he never did ask me, up to that point at least. The pair 'had asked' places the asking further in the past (that's the 'had' function) than when I could have helped. In #4, the verb 'had' serves a different function, the ownership or holding of the cash. – Yosef Baskin Jun 15 '17 at 3:44

If "could" implies possibility, then "could have" would imply the possibility of something that would have already happened.


(1) - I could have helped him if he had asked me.


(2) - I could help him if he had asked me.

For (1), if he had asked the writer, then the writer would probably had already helped him.

For (2), if he had asked the writer, then it is possible for the writer to help him, but the help would not have happened yet. This usage would be weird because the possibility (capability) to help is dependent on whether he had asked or not.

  • 2
    #2 seems wrong - I could help him, if he asks/asked me would be correct (both present tense, or present conditional and past simple). But mixing the present conditional and past perfect..? I can see what you mean in your description, but I am not sure if it is something that I would say. – Greenonline Jun 15 '17 at 4:47

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