[How could you pass the exam...] vs. [How could you do that to me...]

JJXR

Senior Member
Russian
Hello to all,

Thanks for reading my post.


Sample sentences:

1. How could you pass the exam when you had not worked for it?

2. How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?

Question:

Why is sentence #1 incorrect and sentence #2 correct? They follow the same grammatical pattern.


Thanks a lot for any comments, corrections or suggestions!

Regards,
JJXR
 
  • Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    Sentence 1 is grammatical, but the second verb would normally be a different one, for example "had not studied" or "had not prepared".
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    1. How could you pass the exam when you had not worked for it?
    2. How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?

    Why is sentence #1 incorrect and sentence #2 correct?
    These are both correct sentences. They use different meanings of "could". In some languages, those meanings use different verbs.

    1. "could" = "were able to"

    2. "could" = "were willing to"
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you all for replying to this thread.

    A native speaker in this thread told me that sentence #2 was correct, whereas a native speaker in this thread told me that sentence #1 was incorrect.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    1. How could you pass the exam when you had not worked for it?

    It needs context. It may not be a good way to express what you mean. Without context, we don't know what you mean.
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Context:

    A: "I'm so happy. Yesterday I passed my last exam, and now I'm going to the beach."
    B: "Wait! How could you pass the exam when you had not worked for it?"
     

    Scrawny goat

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Context:

    A: "I'm so happy. Yesterday I passed my last exam, and now I'm going to the beach."
    B: "Wait! How could you pass the exam when you had not worked for it?"
    No. In that case your friend would say ‘How could you have (turned out now to have) passed the exam when you did not work for it?!’

    The ‘had not worked’ form only works for me if you failed. ‘How (did you imagine when you were taking that exam, in the past) that you could pass, when you had not worked for it (before this point in the past)’
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks Scrawny goat.
    "could" = "were able to"
    [able = having the necessary power, resources, skill, time, opportunity, etc., to do something.]
    The ‘had not worked’ form only works for me if you failed.
    Why necessarily failed, and why use "could have passed" instead of "could pass"? If someone was able to do something at some point in the past, they might or they might not have done it. "had not worked" is used because the not working is earlier in time than taking the exam.

    Context tells us if they failed:

    A: "I'm so happy. Yesterday I passed my last exam, and now I'm going to the beach."
    B: "Wait! How [could you = were you able to = did you manage to] pass the exam when you had not worked for it?"

    A: "I'm so upset. Yesterday I failed my last exam, and now I don't know what to do."
    B: "No wonder that you failed! How [could you = did you imagine that you [could]/[were able to]] pass the exam when you had not worked for it?"

    Is my understanding wrong?
    2. How could you do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?
    I think the same goes for sample sentence #2. This sentence doesn't necessarily mean that the speaker's ex-friend did something to the speaker. It could mean either that the ex-friend did do something or that they could have done this "something" but didn't.

    Am I right or wrong?

    Thanks in advance.
     
    Last edited:

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I accept that your B sentences are correct. I probably wouldn't express either meaning using could.

    In sentence #2, the structure and the past perfect implies, to me anyway, that the speaker's ex-friend did something nasty.
    If you change to present perfect, the sentence allows for the possibility that they are discussing some threatened future action - and of course they are still friends, for now.
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks for the response, panjandrum.
    In sentence #2, the structure and the past perfect implies, to me anyway, that the speaker's ex-friend did something nasty.
    The past perfect could mean, for example, that when the two friends were young, they had already been friends for five years.
    __________________________________________________________________________
    A context in which the two are still friends and the speaker's friend was willing to do something nasty but didn't:

    A: "When we were young, John told me that I [could = were allowed to] take your money and that he wouldn't tell you. I wanted to and I almost did. If I had and John had told you, we wouldn't be friends now. I'm glad I didn't do it."

    B: "How [could you = did you imagine that you were allowed to] do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?"
    __________________________________________________________________________
    A context in which the two aren't friends anymore and the speaker's ex-friend did something nasty:

    A: "When we were young, John told me that I [could = were allowed to] take your money and that he wouldn't tell you. I did and then he told you. If I had not, we would still be friends. I regret doing so."

    B: "How [could you = did you imagine that you were allowed to] do that to me after we had been friends for such a long time?"
    __________________________________________________________________________
    Does this make sense?
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    No. In that case your friend would say ‘How could you have (turned out now to have) passed the exam when you did not work for it?!’
    "How could you do" refers to something which had a duration while "How could you have done" some one-off event. I guess that why Scrawny goat prefers the latter since "passed the exam" is an one-off event. But I think "How could you pass the exam" also works in your context.
    The ‘had not worked’ form only works for me if you failed.
    I don't understand this argument either.
     
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