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I have a question concerning the meaning of "could" in this sentence:

"It could refer back to the subject, Jane, or it could refer to somebody else."

As I understand this, there's an implied condition in the sentence.

Something like: "It could refer back to the subject, Jane, or it could refer to somebody else if some specific circumstances were taking place"

Is my understanding right?

Here's a screenshot of a part of grammar explanation. And the sentence that I asked a question about is at the end of the text.

enter image description here

  • Please never show pictures of text. We can't search screenshots. – tchrist Jan 13 at 18:20
  • Oh, okay. Just write the whole thing instead of screenshot? – Czup Jan 13 at 18:39
  • Yes, exactly. Please. – tchrist Jan 13 at 18:49
  • Ok, sorry. Won't happen again. – Czup Jan 13 at 19:47
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It means that it is possible. Of course every possibility depends on a series of assumptions, which might be implicit.

You could be a thief. It is possible. I don't know if you are. If you steal stuff, you are a thief. If you don't, then you are not. And you could be from Spain. It is possible. I don't know where you live. Or maybe you are from Australia, that's possible too. So you could be Australian.

In your example, "her" could refer to Jane, it is possible, but it's also possible that it refers to some other girl. You don't know for sure, because it's out of context, or there isn't enough context, or because it's ambiguous anyway. If you knew for sure who it referred to, then you would not use "could".

  • Can I rephrase it to "It is possible that it refers back to the subject, Jane, or it is possible that it refers to somebody else"? – Czup Jan 13 at 19:52
  • @Czup, yes, that's basically what it means. – reed Jan 15 at 16:05
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If what you think it means is "It is going to be Jane unless x happens" then no.

Lets say there is a group of people (Jane, John, Rich, Sara, Bob)

It could refer to Jane, or it could refer to someone else, is the same as

It could refer to John, or it could refer to someone else, and that's the same as

It could refer to Bob, or it could refer to someone else. You see?

The only reason they used Jane there was because she was the last name mentioned.

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