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could be years away

Discussion in 'English Only' started by VikNikSor, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. VikNikSor

    VikNikSor Senior Member

    In the first sentence 'could' refers to the past tense, in the third one - to the future... And I believe that in the second one the 'could' refers to the present, but I wonder whether it can refer to the past, too.
    e.g.: An improvement in living standards (in a country in a time interval in the past) could be years away...(we don't know whether it was or not)
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2013
  2. KatieMo New Member

    English - U.S.
    The word "could," in these instances, is being used as a 'transitional verb'.

    Notice the word "could" is followed by "have been", "be" and "be" in the sentences - "could have been", "could be", and "could be".

    So, the word "could", in these instances, can be used in past, present or future tenses. You can tell which tense the word is used in based on the verb that it is linked with -'have been' (past), or 'be' (future).

    I believe the use of this transitional verb in the present tense would be "can", instead of "could". For example, "He can be so funny."

    Here is a link to "The Grammarly Handbook", explaining Conditional Verbs such as can/could, shall/should, and will/would.


    and here is a link to post in a different forum, clarifying the the use of "could".

  3. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    No. "Years away" means many years in the future.
  4. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Yes, but it could mean "many years in the future" measured from any point in time:

    For agricultural workers in the 1880's, the possibility of conquering the constant, always-fatal threat of rabies must have seemed years away, at best. But then, in 1885, Pasteur introduced his vaccine.
  5. VikNikSor

    VikNikSor Senior Member

    Yes, I had in mind the 'the future, starting from the current situation', when was saying 'refers to the present'.
    Let's suppose we don't know if Pasteur introduced his vaccine. And we don't know what has been happening since 1880's with those agricultural workers on the whole. Can we say in that case:
    'For agricultural workers in the 1880's, the possibility of conquering the constant, always-fatal threat of rabies could be years away, at best' ?
  6. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    I'm sure we could use it to refer to things that were considered to be "years away" in the past that were, in fact, "years away."

    The thing is that I can't think of a situation in which we would want to say that something seemed "years away" in the past unless we wanted to say that it in fact was not. I'm sure that such a situation exists; it just wasn't the first thing that popped into my head.

    Oh wait. What about something like: "Although the French revolutionaries believed they had definitively brought an end to the rule of the French monarchy, the complete eradication of the monarchist impulse in French culture was still years away."
  7. VikNikSor

    VikNikSor Senior Member

    Yes, but it is a little different... It is a narrative about the past, and we know for sure that 'complete eradication was still years away' on that period of time
  8. VikNikSor

    VikNikSor Senior Member

    Ok, I'll think about it.

    Thank you all:)
  9. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    What I'm trying (not too successfully) to say is that there's no reason why things couldn't have been "years away" in the past, but it doesn't seem probable that anyone would describe them as such unless to say either A) people thought X was years away, but it wasn't, or B) people thought X was at hand, but it was years away.

    Many things are grammatically possible in English (as in any language) without being probable​ in the actual use of that language.

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