He couldn't see/have seen the murderer

rcjm

Member
Spanish
Hi everybody,
I need some help to make sure I'm right:

a) He couldn't see the murderer.
b) He couldn't have seen the murderer.

"Can / Could" conveys meanings such as Possibility, Ability Permission. Sentences a) and b) are identical,except for the fact that in a) couldn't is followed by a simple infinitive (see), while in b) it is followed by a perfect infinitive.
However, as I see It, in a) the scales seem to be turned towards an Ability interpretation (he wasn't able to see ...), while in b) the interpretation is more biased towards Possibility (impossibility in this case).
Thus, providing a larger context, a) could be expanded as:

a) He couldn't see the murderer. It was too dark.
Whereas b) may be expanded as:

b) He couldn't have seen the murderer. He wasn't at home at the time of the murder.
Am I right? Is It always the case ir could there be counter examples?

How could I paraphase sentence b) using the word IMPOSSIBLE?
Thanks a lot in advance.
 
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  • Agró

    Senior Member
    Spanish-Navarre
    Lo veo igual que tú.

    Respecto a meter "impossible", no veo cómo.
    Pero esto sí me parece posible:
    He couldn't possibly have seen the murderer.
     

    elprofe

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    Las pocas veces que he hablado esto con nativos, creo recordar que todos preferían la forma con "can't":
    · "He can't have seen the murderer. He wasn't at home when..."
     

    rcjm

    Member
    Spanish
    Las pocas veces que he hablado esto con nativos, creo recordar que todos preferían la forma con "can't":
    · "He can't have seen the murderer. He wasn't at home when..."
    Yes, CAN'T HAVE SEEN is often (but not always) a possible alternative. As far as I know, a) is correct but b) below is wrong:
    a) He can't have seen the murderer.

    b) The police said / assumed that he can't have seen the murderer.

    There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with c), however:

    c) The police said / assumed that he couldn't have seen the murderer.
     
    Last edited:

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Hi everybody,
    I need some help to make sure I'm right:

    a) He couldn't see the murderer.
    b) He couldn't have seen the murderer.

    "Can / Could" conveys meanings such as Possibility, Ability Permission. Sentences a) and b) are identical,except for the fact that in a) couldn't is followed by a simple infinitive (see), while in b) it is followed by a perfect infinitive.
    However, as I see It, in a) the scales seem to be turned towards an Ability interpretation (he wasn't able to see ...), while in b) the interpretation is more biased towards Possibility (impossibility in this case).
    Thus, providing a larger context, a) could be expanded as:

    a) He couldn't see the murderer. It was too dark.
    Whereas b) may be expanded as:

    b) He couldn't have seen the murderer. He wasn't at home at the time of the murder.
    Am I right? Is It always the case ir could there be counter examples?

    How could I paraphase sentence b) using the word IMPOSSIBLE?
    Thanks a lot in advance.
    Both a and b are ambiguous since couldn't can mean "no pudo", "no podía", or "no podría"/"no pudiera".

    Sentence b can mean "It was impossible for him to have seen the murderer", "It would be impossible for him to have seen the murderer", "It would have been impossible for him to see the murderer", or "He would have been unable to see the murderer". And I may be missing some possibilities.
     
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