That dog <can><could> be dangerous [past tense]

Hwan

Member
Korean
My questions has arisen from the following two sentences from British Council.

1. It can be very cold here in winter. (= It is sometimes very cold here in winter.) --> General statement about the present
2. It could be very cold there in winter. (= It was sometimes very cold there in winter.) --> General statement about the past

Based on the principle above,

1. That dog can be dangerous. --> General statement about the present
2. That dog could be dangerous --> General statement about the past

So I think the past tense of "That dog can be dangerous." should be "That dog could be dangerous".

Is it correct ?
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    This may help you.
    What is the past tense of the sentence "It can be true"..
    It has an explanation of the tense function and aspects of modal verbs.

    1. It can be very cold here in winter. (= It is sometimes very cold here in winter.) --> General statement about the present
    You should note that it is also a statement about any time - past, present or future.
    2. It could be very cold there in winter. (= It was sometimes very cold there in winter.) --> General statement about the past
    You should note that it is also a statement about any time - past, present or future.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Modal verbs are one the most difficult aspects of English grammar, and very common in all kinds of English. Yes, "could" is very common in all the the following tenses/moods.
    1. One of the past tenses of "can" - "That dog could be dangerous - I was afraid of it" and "That dog can't have been dangerous" are both past tenses, but use "can" in entirely different senses.
    2. The conditional of "can" - for example "You are looking after that dog next week. It could be dangerous if you let it off its lead"; but remember that the "if" clause of a conditional sentence can be implied as well as expressed, and it is not always obvious that there is an implied condition.
    3. It can also be used to express a tentative opinion. I am not sure what to call this form - maybe "subjunctive"
    - That is true. (sure)
    - That may be true ("proximate" possibility)
    - That could be true ("remote" possibility)

    To make it more complicated still, these different senses are applied in verious rather idiomatic ways, for example to express courtesy...
     
    Last edited:

    Hwan

    Member
    Korean
    Without context, I would read "That dog could be dangerous" as a statement about a dog [now] to express the possibility that it might be dangerous at some time in the future.
    Thank you Franco. I understand that could is also the present tense to express future possibility. What if the sentence was "That wild dog could be dangerous before it was trained by human" ? Does it make sense ?
     

    Hwan

    Member
    Korean
    Modal verbs are one the most difficult aspects of English grammar, and very common in all kinds of English. Yes, "could" is very common in all the the following tenses/moods.
    1. One of the past tenses of "can" - "That dog could be dangerous - I was afraid of it" and "That dog can't have been dangerous" are both past tenses, but use "can" in entirely different senses.
    2. The conditional of "can" - for example "You are looking after that dog next week. It could be dangerous if you let it off its lead"; but remember that the "if" clause of a conditional sentence can be implied as well as expressed, and it is not always obvious that there is an implied condition.
    3. It can also be used to express a tentative opinion. I am not sure what to call this form - maybe "subjunctive"
    - That is true. (sure)
    - That may be true ("proximate" possibility)
    - That could be true ("remote" possibility)

    To make it more complicated still, these different senses are applied in verious rather idiomatic ways, for example to express courtesy...
    Thank you for the information Teddy ~~ It really helps
     
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