The ambiguity is not in "could." The ambiguity is in the main clause; "could have passed the exam" might mean that,Hi,
In the following sentence, is "could" ambiguous?
If he had studied harder, he could have passed the exam.
I'd appreciate your help.
As post #2 says, "could" means "would have been able to".
1. If he had studied harder, he would have passed the exam.
2. If he had studied harder, he could have passed the exam.
2a. If he had studied harder, he would have been able to pass the exam.
That meaning seems correct to me. It is the same meaning as "might have":I'm wondering whether "he could have passed the exam" could mean "it would have been possible for him to pass the exam."
Sure, why not? Since both "could" and "would" refer to a judgment/conclusion on the part of the speaker, both modal verbs refer to epistemic modality. If, however, what you have in mind is "ability" (studying harder gives the ability to pass the exam), then "could" shows its particular meaning of "ability." Modal verbs are always speaker-dependent, so it'll be up to the speaker to determine which modal verb he uses (but I don't think the choice is terribly important).I'm wondering whether "he could have passed the exam" could mean "it would have been possible for him to pass the exam."
It might explain why I would use "might" or "would be able to", instead of "could".Do you think the difference is significant in some contexts?
Sometimes the listener's logic doesn't match the speaker's thinking. You can't assume that a sentence means what YOU would mean, or does not mean what YOU would not mean.This consideration rules out
Why would people ever need to talk about fish being wet? And yet people do. They say this.I wondered why we would ever need to talk about ability at all in this case.