Is there any difference between could get and could've gotten? Obviously, "could get" can be used for future, hypothetical situations, but I can't see what the difference is, if any, between the two when used in the past, particularly in the negative. Do they carry distinct nuances or implications?

Examples: "I don't understand how you could miss/could've missed that /// how it could get past you/ could have gotten past you. "

  • Well there's really not much difference in your particular example, it's bringing the same point across really and that's pretty much all that matters. Generally, however, the difference between "could get" and "could have gotten" is very much the same as that between "get" and "have gotten". One means you could go out and get it. The other means you don't actually need to go and get it because you've already done it. That's a rather major difference, I should say, depending on context.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 28, 2018 at 10:30
  • Bear in mind: the British would say: "could have got past you" for the present prefect and Americans would say: "could have gotten past you" for the present perfect.
    – Lambie
    Jun 28, 2018 at 18:38
  • "I don't understand how you could miss…” is purely theoretical and wholly independent of past, p[resent or future. Try it, please… "I don't understand how you could've missed…” is necessarily past, simply because this time you’ve chosen to use not “could miss” but "could've missed”. Does that difference not matter to you? Similarly, “get past you” is largely timeless but “have gotten past you” is clearly a past tense. Again, does that difference not matter? Jun 30, 2018 at 21:32

2 Answers 2


The "could get" form implies a current or even any time situation.

Using your example, "I don't see how it could get past you" implies that you don't see that capability for the time and situation being discussed, but also now.

The "could have gotten" form is more limited in its scope.


As you suggested, I will consider your question in the context of a past event.

1) I don't understand how you could have missed that.

Here, you are talking about a specific event and what happened that resulted in me missing something during that event.

A possible expansion and rephrasing of the sentence could be:

I understand how you might have missed that in other circumstances, but how did you miss it in those circumstances?

2) I don't understand how you could miss that.

This construction has several differences from the first.

Not only are you talking about an idea in general, rather than a specific event, but you are also not necessarily talking about me and could be using you in a generic sense.

In other words, it could be rephrased as:

I don't understand how you or anyone could ever miss that in any circumstance.

The same analysis could also be applied, respectively, to your could have gotten and could get example sentences.

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