Last year Robert COULD beat his brother at chess. But he can't beat him now.

eagerLearner2017

Banned
Live in Iran, From Afghanistan(Dari)
We use COULD to talk about things we are able to do generally. We don't normally use COULD for something that happend on a particular occasion in the past.We use was able to or managed to do"
Source: "Oxford Practice Grammar "

Now, in the same book, in the PRACTICE section, there was an example below:
Last year Robert COULD beat his brother at chess. But he can't beat him now.

I have a question: Why do the writer use 'COULD' instead of 'was able to' or 'managed to do something' , because the example above is not general situation it is a particular occasion.

My analysis:
I feel that although that situation happened last year, it wasn't happening during a whole year. For example, every week, every month or every day.Playing chess and beating her brother just happened in a specific day of the year or a specific month of the year, not the whole year. That is why I think it is not a general situation.


Lost of thanks.
 
  • Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Last year Robert COULD beat his brother at chess. But he can't beat him now.
    This sentence suggests that around this time last year, Robert could beat his brother at chess, but over the last year, Robert's brother has improved his standard.

    I have a question: Why do the writer use 'COULD' instead of 'was able to' or 'managed to do something' , because the example above is not general situation it is a particular occasion.
    We don't know if Robert and his brother play chess regularly or not, or if they continued to play chess throughout the last year or whether they played after a gap of a year. The use of "could" doesn't depend on that. It just means that last year Robert was able to beat his brother at chess.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    In that sentence, "could" is used with the meaning of was able to. The fact that the following sentence says "But he can't beat him now" suggests to me that they play chess, if not regularly, on a number of occasions and therefore that the brother's standard has improved.

    I don't think it's true to say that "could" is not used to describe something that happened only one particular occasion, nor that we'd use "was able to", which can sound a bit overly formal. For instance, I'd happily say:
    "The guy came on Wednesday to fix the washing machine, but he couldn't, because he'd brought the wrong parts".
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    One of the uses of "could" is used to talk about having the ability to do something in the past, over a period of time:

    When I was little I could do the splits.

    If we are talking about being able to do something on one occasion in the past, we can use "managed to" or "was able to".

    I remember that I managed to get full marks on the first French test I ever did.

    I think Donny's example works because it's the negative "couldn't".

    The guy came on Wednesday to fix the washing machine. At first I thought he was making a mess of the job, but in the end he managed to do it. (On this particular occasion - we wouldn't use "he could do it" in this case.)
    The guy came on Wednesday to fix the washing machine, and I was surprised that he could do it. (He had the ability.)



     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    But does that not mean "...that he was able to do it" (i.e. on that one occasion in the past)? :confused:
    Sort of, but maybe it suggests his having that ability was continuous :) -- I find it quite interesting to think about when we can and cannot use "could" in the past. I'm sure there must be many threads already on this subject. I haven't looked at them yet.

    Edit: This one may be pertinent:
    could / was able to
     
    Last edited:

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Last year Robert COULD beat his brother at chess. But he can't beat him now.

    I have a question: Why do the writer use 'COULD' instead of 'was able to' or 'managed to do something' , because the example above is not general situation it is a particular occasion.
    By using "could" the writer was saying that it was a general situation last year: any time they played, Robert could beat him.

    We need to separate "what is reasonable in this situation, as I imagine the situation" from "what the author actually says". Otherwise we do not learn grammar and meaning. Perhaps it is unreasonable or ridiculous to say that Robert could beat his brother every single time they played chess last year. But that is what the sentence says.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Perhaps it is unreasonable or ridiculous to say that Robert could beat his brother every single time they played chess last year. But that is what the sentence says.
    To me, it suggests Robert usually or fairly often beat his brother at chess, but not necessarily every time they played. It wasn't unusual for him to defeat his brother a year ago.
     

    Vronsky

    Senior Member
    Russian - Russia
    The guy who came on Wednesday to fix the washing machine couldn't fix it, but the guy who came on Thursday was managed to.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The guy who came on Wednesday to fix the washing machine couldn't fix it, but the guy who came on Thursday was managed to.
    The guy who came on Wednesday to fix the washing machine couldn't fix it, but the guy who came on Thursday could.

    This is tricky usage, and I can't adequately explain it - because we can't really say: The guy who came on Wednesday could fix the washing machine, when we mean he was able to/managed to.
     

    eagerLearner2017

    Banned
    Live in Iran, From Afghanistan(Dari)
    Thanks all.
    Was it right to use 'was able to' or 'managed to do' instead of 'could', if we left out the second sentence?
    If we have only this sentence: "Last year Robert COULD beat his brother at chess."
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Was it right to use 'was able to' or 'managed to do' instead of 'could', if we left out the second sentence?
    If we have only this sentence: "Last year Robert COULD beat his brother at chess."
    You can certainly alter it to "was able to". :)

    But "managed to" suggests that he did it with some difficulty, and so it alters the meaning slightly.
     
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