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I'd like to know the meaning of "could hope to" in a sample sentence from my grammar book:

He earns more in a month than I could hope to in a year.

I think it's hypothetical situation. But I don't know the reason of using it and why we don't use "can hope" here. I wish native speakers give me some help.

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The word earn is implied but omitted from the end of the sentence. Adding it might help make the structure clearer:

He earns more in a month than I could hope to [earn] in a year.

  1. The speaker uses "could" because he or she is describing a hypothetical situation. Grammatically, instead of "can hope" (indicative tense), the speaker invokes a hypothetical with "could hope" (conditional tense).
  2. The second instance of "earn" is understood by the reader because it was already stated at the beginning of the sentence. Similarly, the word "to" in the following sentence is assumed to introduce an implied verb "to go":

They invited me to go, but I didn't want to.

Your original sentence is fine as is, but here are some alternative renderings of the same idea:

He earns more in a month than I could hope for in a year.

He earns more in a month than I could earn in a year.

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  • Thank you! But I'm still confused about why the hypothetical form is used here and what is implied. In our culture, I'm afraid we would just use "can hope" or "can earn" in this context.
    – bob8964
    Jan 17, 2019 at 7:51
  • Well, this perhaps is going beyond the scope of this forum, but here's an example: It's hypothetical because the speaker is not saying, "It's more than I earn now," but rather something like "It's more money than I can imagine any way to earn, even using all my best efforts and taking advantage of all foreseeable opportunities." Thus even in the hypothetical situation of maximizing all opportunity and perhaps a reasonable amount of luck, the speaker's earnings would not measure up.
    – James D
    Jan 18, 2019 at 20:14
  • Thank you agian! So, can I rewrite the original sentence as "than I could hope to in a year in an ideal situation"?
    – bob8964
    Jan 20, 2019 at 16:25
  • Well, yes, grammatically it's fine that way. But it's wordy; the added phrase at the end doesn't add anything. What I "could hope" to earn already implies the most ideal of circumstances.
    – James D
    Oct 8, 2020 at 6:38

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