0

I am aware of the usage of COULD in the following cases (list from Cambridge Grammar (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/modals-and-modality/could)):

  • possibility in the present and the future.
  • suggestions and permissions
  • past ability
  • past single events with verbs of senses and mental processes

Also, this makes clear that sentences like "I could visit you yesterday but I was lazy" or "He could travel to China a week ago" are incorrect.

But then the are sentences like:

  • Hundreds of years ago, even a simple injury could be fatal.
  • In the ancient Rome, you could have both male and female lovers and nobody wondered.

For the following examples, I was told that these are statements of fact:

  • I could buy it yesterday and I did.
  • Back then, travelling could be dangerous.

What usage of "could"would that be? I cannot see a fitting case in the overview. Why those are correct even when "COULD" refer to the past events?

0

A simple injury could be fatal is past possibility or past capability. Not all simple injuries were fatal, but one could be. It is not a simple statement of fact that all injuries, even simple ones, were fatal hundreds of years ago. If you had a simple injury it might prove fatal. It was capable of killing you.

you could have both male and female lovers again refers to a past possibility or a past capability. Gender was not an irrelevancy in all love relationships in ancient Rome, but it was possibly an irrelevancy. Gender could be irrelevant as far as people were concerned. A person was capable (not prevented by societal taboo) of having lovers of either gender.

  • So are you saying the first sentence is not correct? I made those up. My point is - the grammar source I linked does not list this usage for COULD, or maybe it is implied by some of the entries? I mean, I guess I should not say "A simple injury could have been fatal" in this case, or "might have been" in your case. – John V Feb 27 at 14:01
  • No, I am not saying it is incorrect. I'm saying that the first sentence about simple injuries falls into the first category in your bulleted list. – TRomano Feb 27 at 14:03
  • Well but you mention "past" possibility, while the grammar there confines this to present and future possibilities (more details in the link I put in the question). – John V Feb 27 at 14:04
  • I don't think that grammar page "confines" anything. It is a quick and dirty listing, not presenting itself as the final word on the subject. – TRomano Feb 27 at 14:07
  • What I am trying to understand is - according to that grammar guide, I should not use "could" for past possibilities. But using "could have" changes the sense, in my opinion. – John V Feb 27 at 14:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.