the worst thing you <could have> said

thetazuo

Senior Member
Chinese - China
That was the worst thing you could have said, sweetling.
Source: Game of Thrones

Hi. I think the "could have" here expresses past options.
It implies that at the time you could have said other things instead but you did't. We can replace "could have said" with "could say" without changing the meaning, but the implication will be lost.

And I think all the uses of "superlative+could have done" can be interpreted this way.
Am I right?
Thank you.
 
  • Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    I think the "could have" here expresses past options.
    The speaker appears to be referring to something the other person has already said, so it is in the past.
    We can replace "could have said" with "could say" without changing the meaning,
    That was the worst thing you could say: This suggests (but doesn't necessarily mean) that whatever was said had just been said, while with the original ("could have said"), it might have been just then or earlier.
    And I think all the uses of "superlative+could have done" can be interpreted this way.
    You could be right but I wouldn't generalise.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    That was the worst thing you could say: This suggests (but doesn't necessarily mean) that whatever was said had just been said, while with the original ("could have said"), it might have been just then or earlier.
    Thank you, Barque. So "could have said" and "could say" are not interchangeable?
    And does the implication exist as is mentioned in the op?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Well, you could say "could say", but then you would need "that is" instead of "that was". But by moving this into the present, we are no longer talking about what you call "past options", but about "present options" or perhaps general or permanent options.
    If your intention is to comment on a particular option that was chosen in the past, you want "that was" + "could have said".
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you. So if I want to talk about a particular option, do I have to use superlative with "could have/could do"?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    do I have to use superlative with "could have/could do"?
    I'm not sure which of the following you mean.
    1) If I use a superlative, must I use could have/do?
    2) If I use could have/do, must I use a superlative?

    If (1), no. You could say "That was the best thing you have ever done".
    If (2), probably yes.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    I'm not sure which of the following you mean.
    1) If I use a superlative, must I use could have/do?
    2) If I use could have/do, must I use a superlative?

    If (1), no. You could say "That was the best thing you have ever done".
    If (2), probably yes.
    Thank you. I see. My intended meaning is (2). I didn't know my question could also mean (1) and it's very helpful to mention both meanings.:)
     
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