I was watching a film about a man who had a secret from his family, at some point in the film the wife finds out about it and says:

"How could you do this to us?" - "Could do" in this context is not referring to a certain activity the man was performing, but to the whole process of keeping something secret from his family.

I was wondering if it would be possible to use "could have done" in the same sense, for example:

"How could you have done this to us?" (You kept something so important a secret from us)

In this context, is it possible to use "could" and "could have" interchangeably? If not, what difference in meaning would there be? Is it possible that "could" might refer to a prolonged activity, while "could have" refers to a singular action? The first one seems to be used more often.

I did some googling and some search on this forum but didn't manage to find an answer.

Thank you so much for your help!


1 Answer 1


Many people interchangeably use COULD DO and COULD HAVE DONE. One way of explaining this difference is when it is reported. She said, "How can you do this to us?" She asked how X could do it to her." BUT,

She said, "How can you have done it to us?" She asked how X could have done it to her.

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