could never

< Previous | Next >

Allegro molto

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello

He could never think of the woman’s name.
(from a dictionary)

Does the sentence above refer to the present?

Thank you
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm not sure I understand your question, Allegro. "Could" here is either past tense or conditional.

    Perhaps you could give us some examples of how you would like to use the sentence?
     

    Allegro molto

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Hello, Loob

    I composed two sentences so that they might be past tense and conditional.

    As he was senile, he could never think of the woman’s name.
    (past tense)
    He could never think of the woman’s name, however hard he tries to.
    (conditional)

    Thank you
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    With tried, I think it might be just another sentence with past tense could. I do think tries could work with conditional could:

    Were he not a memory expert, he would be having as tough a time as the others: he could never (= "would never be able to") think of the woman's name, no matter how hard he tries.
     

    Tazzler

    Senior Member
    American English
    Well, the thing is that the second sentence never sat well with me probably due to the confusion between the past and the conditional. I think that the past subjunctive (past tense in form) is requiered for grammatical agreement, but strict abidance by the "rules" tends to be lax.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi again Allegro

    Forero's right that "could never" in your second sentence could be understood as conditional. I think it would be more likely to be seen as conditional if you changed "tries" to "might try":
    He could never think of the woman’s name, however hard he might try to.

    But actually, it would be the context which would make it clear, rather than the words themselves:).

     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Hi again Allegro

    Forero's right that "could never" in your second sentence could be understood as conditional. I think it would be more likely to be seen as conditional if you changed "tries" to "might try":
    He could never think of the woman’s name, however hard he might try to.

    But actually, it would be the context which would make it clear, rather than the words themselves:).

    Past tense modals like could double as conditionals, and tend to be ambiguous, with or without context. I think present tense tries or may try would do more to rule out past tense than might try.

    Conditional is not present. I think a conditional can refer to present time, especially where context rules out past or future time, but that is hard for could because we have less ambiguous forms to compete with it: would be able to, can possibly, etc.

    So "He could never think of the woman's name" could refer to present time, but that is unlikely.

    Allegro, is there anything in the dictionary in question to suggest that this sentence refers to present time?
     

    Allegro molto

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Were he not a memory expert, he would be having as tough a time as the others: he could never (= "would never be able to") think of the woman's name, no matter how hard he tries.
    I suppose the beginning of the sentence can be converted as below.
    As he is a memory expert, he is not having as tough a time as the others.
    The part after the colon means that he cannot think of the woman’s name.
    Then, how is the former part related to the latter one, please?

    So "He could never think of the woman's name" could refer to present time, but that is unlikely.

    Allegro, is there anything in the dictionary in question to suggest that this sentence refers to present time?
    The phrase "the present" was used in contrast with the phrase "the past tense". I meant conditional by that phrase, which was inappropriate, I admit.
    There isn’t anything in the dictionary to suggest the sentence refers to present time.

    Thank you
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I suppose the beginning of the sentence can be converted as below.
    As he is a memory expert, he is not having as tough a time as the others.
    The part after the colon means that he cannot think of the woman’s name.
    Then, how is the former part related to the latter one, please?


    The phrase "the present" was used in contrast with the phrase "the past tense". I meant conditional by that phrase, which was inappropriate, I admit.
    There isn’t anything in the dictionary to suggest the sentence refers to present time.

    Thank you
    My sentence is not saying outright that he is not having as tough a time as the others, though that is a reasonable surmise. The sentence deals with an imaginary world in which "he" is not a memory expert. The logic is:

    Not a memory expert -> having as tough a time as the others -> never able to think of the woman's name no matter how hard he tries.

    "Never, no matter how hard he tries" means that any trying he might do in the future, in that imaginary world, cannot change the outcome.

    We can surmise from this that, if he remembers the woman's name, it is because he is a memory expert, for the others, not being memory experts, are having, or have been having, a tough time, unable to remember her name. Note that a surmise is not what the sentences actually say, but what most people reading them can fairly reasonably assume, creating context in their own minds.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top