How could you <do><have done> this to me after we had been friends for such a long time?

JJXR

Senior Member
Russian
Hello to all,

Thanks for reading my post.


Context:

Two former friends meet up. One asks the other about the things that ruined their friendship.

Sample sentence:

How could you <do><have done> this to me after we had been friends for such a long time?

Question:

Can both do and have done be used in the sample sentence? Is had been used correctly?


Thanks a lot for any comments, corrections or suggestions!

Regards,
JJXR
 
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    1 How could you do this?
    2. How could you have done this?

    1 is possible. If it was used, I would see it as an example of the use of the use of the simple present tense to comment on an action. Different people use this form to different extents. I would not personally use it here, and I would use 2. (I know could do doesn't look much like simple present tense, but that I how I perceive it here).

    3. We have been friends for a long time.
    4. We had been friends for a long time.
    The speaker will use 4 if he perceives that the friendship ended in a past period, and 3 if it ended in a present period. English does not define how long ago the "present period" began.
     
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    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks se16teddy! Is my understanding correct?
    The speaker will use 4 if he perceives that the friendship ended in a past period
    How could you have done this to me after we had been friends for such a long time? :tick:
    and 3 if it ended in a present period
    How could you have done this to me after we have been friends for such a long time? :tick:
     

    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Thanks Hercules! But they both could have done and could do express a past action, don't they?
    I suppose so. But I think I'd let the grammatical tense rule here, and avoid past perfect if the main clause were in the present tense. Others might feel differently.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thanks Hercules! But they both could have done and could do express a past action, don't they?
    As a general rule, yes. But that is not the question here. The question is: what grammatical structure underlies How could you do that? and How could you have done that? Are they type 2 and type 3 conditionals? Are they examples of the use of modal verbs to express a tentative suggestion? Or are they a sui generis structure with How? And once we have decided what the underlying grammar is, what does this tell us about the tense?

    Watching someone kill a chicken, Little Johnny says:
    I can do that. - OK. I am not sure how you you know because you have never tried.
    I could do that. - OK but under what conditions? Would you have to suspend your sense of injustice?
    I could have done that. - Doesn't seem to raise the moral issue at all: suggests only physical capacity (and willingness to help).
     
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    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Is it possible to interpret the sample sentence with "do" this way?

    [1]
    How could you (= how is it possible for you to) do this to me (now or in the future) after we had been friends for such a long time?

    [2] How could you (= how were you able to) do this to me (in the past) after we had been friends for such a long time?

    In interpretation [1], the reference is to the future, when the two aren't friends anymore. "Could" is used to express a future possibility.

    In interpretation [2], the reference is to the past, when the two were still friends. "Could" is used to express a past ability.
     
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    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I find it difficult to imagine a natural context for interpretation [1].
    The beginning of the sentence, 'How could you do this,' implies a current or anticipated future action that you believe to be inconsistent with friendship.
    The ending of the sentence, 'we had been friends', implies that such friendship no longer exists (past perfect, completed action in the past).
    So the two parts of the sentence cannot naturally coexist.

    For me to accept interpretation [2], reference to a past action, the sentence would have to refer clearly to an action in the distant past.
    With 'this', the action is too close to the present.
    With 'this' changed to 'that', the sentence seems better:
    How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    With 'this' changed to 'that', the sentence seems better:
    How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?
    :thumbsup:

    Also "How could you have done that to me after we had been friends such a long time?"
    "Could do this/that' can be either present or past.
    It's possible to view 'How can you do this to me ...' as a dramatic present use of both verb and demonstrative.

    The past tense form of 'can ' isn't always used for past time.
    There are the underlying conditional and hypothetical uses as well as the capability/ability function.
    - "I could kiss you!"
    - "I could help you but I'm not going to."
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you for your help, Hermione and panjandrum.
    I find it difficult to imagine a natural context for interpretation [1].
    The beginning of the sentence, 'How could you do this,' implies a current or anticipated future action that you believe to be inconsistent with friendship.
    The ending of the sentence, 'we had been friends', implies that such friendship no longer exists (past perfect, completed action in the past).
    So the two parts of the sentence cannot naturally coexist.
    In interpretation [1], I want to convey that the speaker believes, since he/she and the other person were once friends, it is unacceptable for the other person to do "this" to him/her. In other words, even ex-friends, in the speaker's opinion, should not stoop to doing such "bad things" to each other. Does this context make sense?
    Also "How could you have done that to me after we had been friends such a long time?"
    [X] How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?
    [Y] How could you have done that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?

    In the case of the reference to an action in the distant past, [X] implies that the speaker's ex-friend did do something bad to the speaker, whereas [Y] doesn't. [Y] could mean that either his ex-friend did something bad to the speaker or it could simply be a hypothetical statement about something that didn't actually take place.

    Is it a correct understanding of the difference between sentences [X] and [Y]?
     
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    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thank you for your help, Hermione and panjandrum.

    In interpretation [1], I want to convey that the speaker believes, since he/she and the other person were once friends, it is unacceptable for the other person to do "this" to him/her. In other words, even ex-friends, in the speaker's opinion, should not stoop to doing such "bad things" to each other. Does this context make sense?
    ...
    You are struggling to make this construction mean something. Forget it. Native speakers would not contort the language in this way. They would find other, more colloquial, ways to express this meaning.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I find nothing hypothetical about Y. 'Using' have done emphasises that the event in the past.

    Native speakers would not contort the language in this way. They would find other, more colloquial, ways to express this meaning.
    :thumbsup:
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks Hermione and panjandrum.
    [X] How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?
    [Y] How could you have done that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?
    The constructions "could do" and "could have done" are different because they have different meanings. Could anyone please explain this difference in meaning as you see it in sentences [X] and [Y]?
     
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    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    I would use it this way.

    How could you do that to me after we have been friends for such a long time? (we've been friends up until now but something just happened, the person betrayed me somehow and I'm expressing my anger)

    How could you have done that to me after we had been friends for such a long time? (if the friendship ended some time or a long time ago because of the betrayal and one day we meet again and I still can't get over what my friend did and I say this)

    Please tell me if it's correct.:)
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    How could you have done that to me after we have been friends for such a long time? (we've been friends up until now but something just happened, the person betrayed me somehow and I'm expressing my anger)

    Does this one work, and does the use of the present perfect suggest that the speaker still considers the other person to be his/her friend?
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Yes, that works. :)
    Thank you very much, Cagey.:)

    I also wanted to ask if there's any difference between using "this" or "that" in my first sentence.

    How could you do this/that to me after we have been friends for such a long time?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    That is a new question. I don't think there is a difference, but you should see previous threads on this that.
    If they don't answer your question, you can add it to any suitable existing thread.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you, Cagey.:)

    One more thing, please.:) Does this also work?

    How could you have done that to me after we have been friends for such a long time? (we've been friends up until now but something just happened, the person betrayed me somehow and I'm expressing my anger)
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Yes, that works. It says that we have been friends up until this moment. It doesn't say anything about the future. We may remain friends, or our friendship may end.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you very much for replying.:) But I was rather interested in what the difference is between these two "How could you have done" and "How could you do":

    1) How could you have done that to me after we have been friends for such a long time?
    2) How could you do that to me after we have been friends for such a long time?

    I think they both can be used in the same situation and the difference is that the first one simply puts the action (for example, betrayal) in the past as a done deal even though it may have happened just now while the second also talks about the done action (betrayal) as in the past but also generalizes the question with an implied "ever" as in "How could you ever do that to me?".

    Did I get it right?:)
     
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    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    1) How could you have done that to me after we have been friends for such a long time?
    2) How could you do that to me after we have been friends for such a long time?

    I'm not very comfortable with (1). It doesn't sound like something I would say, so I have difficulty explaining it to myself.
    If there was a real action in the past, not the immediate past, then I would say:
    How could you have done that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?

    If there was a real action in the immediate past:
    How could you do that to me when we have been friends for such a long time.
    I would also use this sentence to talk about a possible future action.
    The context would determine which meaning applied.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I am not in the habit of saying 1 or 2, but I think they are grammatical.

    1.

    The normal epistemic function of could is to suggest that a statement may be true because it is consistent with all the known facts. That could be true, I suppose means that we have no facts that can disprove the statement.

    Its past tense is could have.
    The magician could have cheated by looking. We have no facts that prove that he did not cheat by looking, so it is a feasible hypothesis.

    How can refer to the manner of overcoming moral scruples.
    How did Dr Mengele do that?

    We can put these usages together and ask for a possible manner, consistent with the known facts, by which someone overcame moral scruples.
    How could Dr Megele have done that?

    2.

    The core deontic function of can is to indicate the absence of a physical barrier.
    I can lift 100 kg.

    Its past tense is could.
    In those days I could lift 100 kg.

    But the barriers are not necessarily physical.
    In those days I could drown sackfuls of kittens no problem.

    So how could? can also refer to the manner of overcoming past moral scruples.
    How could you do that?



    I strongly suspect, though, that it is possible to construct alternative explanations in which could is understood as conditional.
    I could drown a sackful of kittens if I was paid enough.
    I could have done it if I had been a monster.






     
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