Discussion in 'English Only' started by intokaos, Jun 21, 2013.

  1. intokaos Senior Member

    Hello, I am translating Survival Strategies for People on the Autism Spectrum, by Marc Fleisher and I find the sentence confusing:

    Picture a daywhen my last lecture finished on time, at 4.55 p.m. I would race out of the lecture room and across the university, past the maths building, then the sports and arts centre and up to the main road and bus stop. It is hard to believe anyone
    could run so fast. My whole body ached, I was so exhausted I often felt like choking.

    My doubt is that I am not sure if Could is referring to the past o to the future?

    Thank you.
  2. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Yes, it's fine. :)
  3. intokaos Senior Member

    Which one of both? the past o future?
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello, intokaos

    I'd say it's referring to the past - you could 'translate' it as:
    It is hard to believe anyone was able to run so fast.
  5. intokaos Senior Member

    ;) Thank you so much for the explanation.
  6. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    I apologize. I misread your question. I thought it said, "Can 'could' refer to the past or the future" in general.

    My mistake. :)
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    It is referring to the time when he ran. "It is hard to believe anyone [in the world] could (was able to) run so fast [as I ran at that time in my life.]"
  8. intokaos Senior Member

    Thank you for all the answers!!!
  9. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    The context is rather significant.
    This is describing an habitual action. Apparently, on some days the last lecture did not finish on time: on other days it did.
    He is telling the reader what he would regularly do on days when it finished on time. 'Picture a day' means 'Let me illustrate with a typical case'.

    Thus 'I would race' means 'it was my habit to race'. Accordingly, this is a description of his habitual actions on such a day, not an account of the events on an actual day. Given that, what does 'could' mean here?

    To understand 'could' in a given context, it is useful to replace the verb 'can' with its equivalent 'be able to'. 'Could' has two possible versions: 'was able to' and 'would be able to'. Thus we must choose between 'It is hard to believe anyone was able to run so fast' and 'It is hard to believe anyone would be able to run so fast'.

    Since the context is the writer's habitual behaviour, it seems to me that 'would be able to' is the intended meaning. In this case, it may refer simply to repeated past action, or it may mean 'that anyone would ever be able to' (that is, even at the utmost extent of human capacity). The latter seems more likely to me, as it refers to the exterme nature of the feat itself, and the ability to perform it at all, rather than the ability to do it repeatedly.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2013

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