it couldn't rain/past impossibility

navi

Banned
armenian
Can one say:
1-Last week, it couldn't rain. This week it might.

Meaning: Last week there was no chance of rain. This week there is.

I don't like "1". I think "could" cannot be used to express to the possibility of a single event in the past. The question is whether "could not" could be used to express the impossibility of a single event in the past. I don't think it can, but I am not sure.
Gratefully,
Navi.
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'Could not' certainly can express impossibility in the past, but the above example fails because it does not work with 'rain' like that.
    You could say, 'It rained all last week, so we could not have our picnic'.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    You can say "last week it didn't rain", but not "last week it couldn't rain". There was nothing that made rain impossible; it just didn't happen.
     

    navi

    Banned
    armenian
    Thank you very much Wandle and Parla,

    I sort of get it. I think my example was a bad one.

    How about this one:

    A-This bridge is shaky now and might collapse. Twenty years ago when we crossed it, it was pretty solid. It couldn't collapse.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Sorry but I think this is a bad example too, for factual reasons.
    It is correct grammatically but, after all, there is no such thing as a bridge that cannot collapse.
     

    navi

    Banned
    armenian
    Thank you Wandle and Copyright.

    Two years ago, he couldn't have lent you a dime. Today, he's a millionaire.

    That is obviously correct, but you have used "couldn't have" not "couldn't", and we are not talking about a possibility, but about a capability.

    Last year, I couldn't swim. This year I can.

    But how about:

    2-The book couldn't fall off the shelf. Someone must have thrown it down.

    -Why are you taking an umbrellla with you?
    -It might rain.
    -Why didn't you take it yesterday?
    3-Yesterday there wasn't a single cloud in the sky and I was going to be out for only fifteen minutes. It couldn't rain in those fifteen minutes./It couldn't start raining in those fifteen minutes.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I would use "it couldn't have" in those examples, navi, not "it couldn't". They are talking about events, not capabilities. I wouldn't use "it couldn't X" for an event.
     

    jmichaelm

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It seems to me there is a common, fatalistic idiom that would work with that sentence. Imagine someone very disappointed that it's raining this week when it happened to have been clear weather the previous week. They might say, "It couldn't rain last week. It had to rain now."

    Admittedly this is a bit contrived and does not address your original question, but it does go to show how context can make all the difference.
     

    navi

    Banned
    armenian
    Thank you JamesM and Jmichaelm.

    That was very interesting.
    "It couldn't rain last week. It had to rain now."

    The sentence acquires a different meaning to the one it had in my example.
     
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