Could have

Poland91pl

Senior Member
Polish
Hello. Can "could have be used in questions? I mean eg my friend was on a trip and he could have bought something but he didn't. May I ask" could you have bought it "? Will it mean" did you have a possibility to buy it "? If not, what does it suggest?
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, “could have” can be used in questions.

    Yes, you can ask “Could you have bought it?”.

    But there are various slightly different things it could mean: “Did you have the opportunity to buy it?” or “Was it possible to buy it?” or “Were you allowed to buy it?”.
     
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    Poland91pl

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Yes, “could have’ can be used in questions.

    Yes, you can ask “Could you have bought it?”.

    But there are various slightly different things it could mean: “Did you have the opportunity to buy it?” or “Was it possible to buy it?” or “Were you allowed to buy it?”.
    Thank you. One of my Oxford grammar books said that when referring to a past possibility we use "could" and thus "could you buy it yesterday" would be OK if I asked about the possibility.

    Could is such a strange verb. It may be used for present when asking polite questions or when stating a probability "this story could be true" (my grammar book says we can't say THIS STORY CAN BE TRUE even though my native friends say that sound all right.)

    Whearas could is also used for past abilities and permissions (am I right?) and for past general possibilities I guess like "Could you go the library when you were 15?"

    And yet you say that here "could have" talks about a past possibility. I'm so confused now.
     

    Vronsky

    Senior Member
    Russian - Russia
    One of my Oxford grammar books said that when referring to a past possibility we use "could" and thus "could you buy it yesterday" would be OK if I asked about the possibility.
    Could you say precisely what is written in this book about "could" and past possibilities?
    Is the sentence "could you buy it yesterday" from this book?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Could is occasionally used as the straightforward past tense of can (be able to), so it can substitute for “was/were able to”. But care needs to be taken if you use it that way, since there’s plenty of room for ambiguity.

    Today that item costs £7.50, but yesterday, in the sale, you could buy it for £5. :tick:
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Modal verbs are among the most difficult bits of English grammar. Like most modal verbs, could is confusing because it is used in the same form in 3 distinct tenses/moods, each of which has a number of different functions/senses.
    - Past tense: I could swim when I was 6. The ancient Romans could be cruel - sometimes they were, sometimes they were not.
    - Conditional: You could buy it if you really wanted. You could have bought it if you had wanted. As in the example of #1, the "if" clause is often implied, not expressed.
    - Tentative (subjunctive?) - That could be Fred - I am not sure.
     
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