the worst thing you <could have> said

Discussion in 'English Only' started by thetazuo, Aug 29, 2017.

  1. thetazuo

    thetazuo Senior Member

    China
    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.
     
  2. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    The speaker appears to be referring to something the other person has already said, so it is in the past.
    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.
    You could be right but I wouldn't generalise.
     
  3. thetazuo

    thetazuo Senior Member

    China
    Chinese - China
    Thank you, Barque. So "could have said" and "could say" are not interchangeable?
    And does the implication exist as is mentioned in the op?
     
  4. Edinburgher Senior Member

    Scotland
    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".
     
  5. thetazuo

    thetazuo Senior Member

    China
    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"?
     
  6. Edinburgher Senior Member

    Scotland
    German/English bilingual
    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.
     
  7. thetazuo

    thetazuo Senior Member

    China
    Chinese - China
    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.:)
     
  8. Edinburgher Senior Member

    Scotland
    German/English bilingual
    Well, it wouldn't normally have that meaning. But (and please don't take this as an insult) when we are dealing with learners, we can't always be sure what they mean.
     
  9. thetazuo

    thetazuo Senior Member

    China
    Chinese - China
    Hi. Please write your question in English, since this is English Only forum.:)
     
  10. xu xian

    xu xian Member

    China
    Chinese-Mandarin
    D57E0601-BD98-4054-BC6D-39EB69CF08F3.jpeg
    Hi,How can you explain the usage of could have in this example?why using could have done here?
     

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