The difference between "I can fix the computer" and "I could fix the computer" (present tense) is that the latter expresses more reluctance or doubt.

What is this type of sentence called?

I can relate it to conditional mood, with an implied condition: "I could fix the computer [when I feel like it / if I know how]"

  • There's no special name for sentences like this. The phenomenon is just another odd fact about modal auxiliary usage. The pragmatic condition ([when I feel like it / if I know how], etc.) is called an "invited inference"; that is, the addressee is invited (but not required, like a presupposition) to draw certain conclusions about the intentions and emotions of the speaker, without explicitly saying them. Invited Inference is the handmaiden of Plausible Deniability. BTW, there is no grammatical "conditional mood" in English; we use modals grammatically. Commented May 9, 2023 at 14:10
  • As said by @JohnLawler : "... no special name ...". Let's try "implicit hypothetical construction" ?
    – Graffito
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 17:22
  • Sure, but then you have to define all its parameters and give tests for recognizing it. Better to be explicit than to explain implicity. Commented May 9, 2023 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


"Could" is just the past tense of the auxiliary verb "can." However, this past tense form is often used to express not past time but modal remoteness, or the idea that a possibility is somehow unlikely to be realized. In particular, it implies that you think you are unlikely to need to fix the computer. Of course, saying that you do not expect to be obligated to do something generally indicates a reluctance to do so.

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