could vs couldn't for suggestion

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Muhammad Khatab

Senior Member
Classical Arabic
Could we go to the cinema?
Couldn't we go to the cinema?
They say that "couldn't" gives a stronger suggestion than "could" in questions. So what is the difference in meaning between the two sentences above?

I, myself, think that the first sentence imply that "going to the cinema" is not the only option; we are exploring different options.

The second sentence imply that "going to the cinema" is the best option we have.
Am I right?
They also say that "can" can be used for suggestions instead of of "could". And "can" is stronger than "could". So how can a suggestion can be strong or weak? I want to know the meaning of a suggestion being strong or weak. This is still confusing me.
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Those questions bear no relation to what other options may or may not be available. If a sentence is presented out of context, you can only take it at face value.

    Can we go to the cinema? is a straightforward question as to whether it’s possible to go.
    Could we go to the cinema? is a slightly more tentative way of asking the same straightforward question.

    But if you ask the question with a negative – “Couldn’t we go to the cinema?” – the subtext is that you’re expecting the answer to be “no” and you’re asking “if not, why not?”.
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