могло быть and должно было быть

Discussion in 'Русский (Russian)' started by clomu, May 11, 2013.

  1. clomu Member

    I need help with this sentence:

    Если в рассказе его могло быть преувеличение, то все же должно было быть и нечто похожее на правду.

    This is what I have so far:
    If in his story _________ exaggeration, then nevertheless ____________ even something similar to the truth.

    1) I'm not sure what to do with могло быть and должно было быть. Do they mean, "there could have been" and "there ought to have been". Or "there could be" and "there ought to be".
    I read that должно быть means probably. So is it better to translate должно было быть as "there was probably"?

    2) похожее (similar) is an adjective with a neuter ending. What noun is it describing and how do I know to use the neuter ending?
  2. Maroseika Moderator

    1) Должно было быть is more strong assertion than могло быть. Должно было быть means we are almost sure there was something similar to the truth, while могло быть means we only conjecture there was something but of lie.
    So I think 'probably' would be wrong here.

    2) Ajectives can describe not only nouns, but also pronouns, for example. In the present case похожее refers to нечто, that is why it is neuter.
  3. Enquiring Mind

    Enquiring Mind Senior Member

    UK/Česká republika
    English - the Queen's
    Hi clomu, Maroseika has, of course, given you the right answer, but perhaps I can usefully expand on the answer to your first question. The good news is that these constructions are (relatively) easy in Russian, but translating them into English tends to be problematic for foreigners because they often find English modal verbs difficult.

    Если в рассказе его могло быть преувеличение, то все же должно было быть и нечто похожее на правду.
    If in his story it was possible (for there) to be an exaggeration, then nevertheless there had to be also something like the truth (literal, not idiomatic).
    If there could have been an exaggeration in his story, then nevertheless there must have been also something like the truth (better, but still clumsy)
    If his story may have contained an exaggeration, nevertheless .... (as in the sentence above)
    His story may have been exaggerated, but there must also have been a semblance of truth in it. (Idiomatic)

    There is no "ought to" (obligation) sense here. Maybe there is potential for confusion here because "could" has at least two functions in English:
    1) As the past tense of can: "when I was younger, I could speak Russian better than I do now." (I was able to)
    2) As a conditional, to express something that is possible in the future, but not certain: "If I spent more time studying, my Russian could be much better than it is." (would be able to)

    You may find Terence Wade's "A Comprehensive Russian Grammar" useful, particularly this page (342, section 313 - The Expression of Obligation and Necessity), and there's a page on it in our WR dictionary here.
    Last edited: May 11, 2013
  4. clomu Member

    Wow, first-class help on this site. Your responses are very helpful. Thank you both.

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