I Couldn't call/have called you because...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by ALEX1981X, Jul 2, 2013.

  1. ALEX1981X Senior Member

    Italian
    Hi all,

    I know that one of the functions of "could" is to express ability,permission as well as possibility in the past

    Let's suppose I tried to call you a friend of mine yesterday but my telephone was out of order thus I didn't manage to call him/her.

    The sentence: I Couldn't call you because my telephone was out of order, to me it means that it was impossible for me to call you because there was a certain problem

    Now I'm wondering what would be the nuance in comparison with the perfective form: I couldn't have called you because my telephone was out of order

    Would the meaning be the same in this case or the perfective may suggest some other implied meaning ??

    Is the second one more natural than the other ??

    Thanks everybody for the help :)
     
  2. dreamlike

    dreamlike Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    'I couldn't have called you because my telephone was out of order' does not sound like a likely thing to say, it's probably even outright wrong. To express the meaning given, I'd only use the first of these two sentences. The second one works for me only in circumstances such as this:

    If I hadn't had a telephone, I couldn't have called you. which, as you may possibly know, is a conditional sentence.
     
  3. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Ciao Alex. :)

    I could say this sentence under the following, or similar, circumstances: I am accused of having called someone and I am known to have been drunk, or I have amnesia and I don't remember what happened, or I am known to be suffering from some mental disorder that impairs memory of one's own actions. Then I see some solid evidence that I did not, in fact, call the person and I say: I couldn't have called you because my phone was out of order, as it turns out.
     
  4. ALEX1981X Senior Member

    Italian
    Thanks guys so It seems that I couldn't have called you because my phone was out of order is a correct sentence but the nuance is differentIf I've understood correctly we use just "could" to state a fact and "could have been" to express impossibility (in this context) because we had logical/empirical evidence (the telephone was out of order).

    The nuance is subtle I guess :confused:

    Is that so ??
     
  5. word gumshoe Senior Member

    TEHRAN IRAN
    persian
    Hi,

    ''Could'' is used for permission, possibility and ability as follows:

    A) There were no rules: we could do just what we wanted. (permission)

    B) In those days, a transatlantic voyage could be dangerous. (possibility)

    C) Few of the tourists could speak English. (ability)

    The past tense modals can be used in the hypothetical (or unreal) sense of the past tense in both main and subordinate clauses. Compare:

    1. If United can win this game, they may become league champions.

    2. If United could win this game, they might become league champions.

    Sentence 2, unlike 1, expresses an unreal condition: ie it conveys the speaker's expectation that United will not win the game, and therefor will not become league champions. For past hypothetical meaning (which normally has a contrary-to-fact interpretation), we have to add the perfective aspect:

    3. If United could have won that game, they might have become league champions.

    The usual implication of this is that United did not win the game.

    All past tense modals can be used in this way, to express the hypothetical version of meanings such as ability, possibility, permission, prediction, and volition. With the epistemic possibility of might, however, it is the meaning of the following prediction, rather than of the modal itself, that is interpreted hypothetically. This will be evident from the following paraphrases:

    They might have become champions. [It is possible that they would have become champions.]

    We could have borrowed the money. [It would have been possible for us to borrow the money. (usually with the implication ''...but we didn't'')]

    You should notice that could/might (+ perfective) are used in complaints or rebukes.
     
  6. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    These two sound strange to me. In fact 3. sounds to me so bizarre, that I can't make up my mind whether to write it off as completely ungrammatical or not. :( It's a mighty headbang...
     
  7. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    This means that the game is not decisive in a positive sense. To become champions, it is necessary for United to win this game, but not sufficient. The season is not over: they and other teams have further matches to play.

    However, the implication is that if they lose this game, their chance of the title will have gone.

    This sort of situation is common as the end of the season approaches.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2013
  8. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    We can see a difference between 'couldn't call' and 'couldn't have called', based on the speaker's awareness of the other person's expectation.

    If A had been aware at the relevant time that B was expecting a call, then A may say later 'I couldn't call you because my phone was out of order'.

    If A had been unaware at the relevant time that B was expecting a call, and B later says 'It's your fault: you should have called me anyway, even if I hadn't asked you to', then A may reply 'I couldn't have called you because my phone was out of order'.
    The implication is: 'I couldn't have called you even if it is true that I should have'.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2013
  9. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I agree, but that meaning derives from the "might", not from the "could". The meaning would be the same if we omitted the "could": "If United win this game, they might become league champions." I think this "could" suggests that this game is going to be a difficult one for United.
     
  10. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    I'd say it derives from the whole sentence.
     
  11. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Yes, now that I have read your comments and example 2 in post 5 again, I think you are right that 'could' adds an additional touch of uncertainty, possibly due to the difficulties United are facing.

    No degree of uncertainty could impel me to say example 3, however. :D
     
  12. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    All that example (3) does is place example (2) in the past.

    Example (2) could be spoken before United play the match.
    Now suppose they lose that match and their last realistic expectation of the title is gone.
    Then, provided the statement in example (2) was true at the time, it would be correct to say:
    'If United could have won that game, they might have become league champions.'

    The implication is: 'But they didn't and now they can't'.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2013
  13. ALEX1981X Senior Member

    Italian
    Thanks a lot guys for your precious contributions :)

    Ok so first of all "If United could have won the game" is correct and that's important because I thought that it was plain wrong, grammatically speaking :rolleyes:

    Could it be rephrased like this : If United had been able to win the game, they might have become league champions.

    Does it have the same meaning guys ??
     
  14. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Yes, it does: the same as example (3), that is.
     
  15. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Yes, grammatically, and in the process making a complete semantic mess...
     
  16. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    If I may say so, it seems clear enough.
    Example (3) could also be said when reviewing the situation after the season is over, drawing attention to a possibility that would have come about if United had been able to win the game.

    It is not saying that winning that game would have made them champions: but that it would have put them in a position where becoming champions would still have been possible.
     
  17. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    'If they had won that game' is perfect for the situation you describe. 'If they had been able to win that game' is another good way of putting it. 'If they could have won' sounds messy to me. Post 5 says that 'all past modals can be used that way' - I take it that all past modals can be (mis)used in conditionals in this way. I disagree. Another thing I am incapable of saying is 'If they would have won'. Or 'If they might have won', also 'If they should have won'... :) In fact, the more I think of them, the less I like them. I will start dropping them conversationally here and there and see how they are met. :D I expect people will be finding them perplexing but for that I need to engage in conversation strong analytical minds that will not just sit back and listen without asking questions. :)
     
  18. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    In the context of example (3), these two expressions are equivalent.
     
  19. Phil-Olly Senior Member

    Scotland, English
    I don't think anyone (except users of this site!) will notice!
    I hear "If they'd have ..." all the time!
     
  20. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    This can often be heard in colloquial use.
    However, there are two groups of people who would notice the mistake: there are those who might say it but would not write it and those who would never use it.
    As a general rule, these groups are represented progressively better the higher you go in professional or administrative circles and especially in the field of education.
     

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