If I could make it back to the office, I would come.

Should I use could or can here?


Yes, it is correct if you are explaining that you cannot do something that you promised to do.

Something is preventing me from returning to the office, despite my desire to do so.

The idea can be abstracted as

If I could, I would; but I can not, so I will not.

EDIT: responding to comment regarding can vs could

The could / would pairing implies a known current situation.

If I could, I would. => If it was possible (near past), I would be doing it. (now)

When replaced by can / will, the sentence becomes about an unknown current situation.

If I can, I will. => If it is possible (now), I will be doing it. (near future)

  • 3
    I would change "if it was possible" to "if it were possible" (subjunctive, implying "but it is not"). – psmears Jan 10 '11 at 14:23

Telling someone that you may come back to the office: If I can, I will. I'll have to see if my replacement gets here in time.

Telling someone that you want to go to the office but something (outside your control) is preventing me: If I could, I would. But my boss told me I need to stay here.

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