Lesson 34 different meanings of “could”

Choose the correct answers:

Which meaning and time frame does each “could + verb” refer to in the following sentences?

a. speculation/possibility/guessing, present or future

b. polite request, present or future

c. ability, past

d. permission, past

  1. Could you close the windows at bedtime? It could rain in the middle of the night.
  2. Listen! Who could be knocking at the door at this hour?
  3. I could play the violin well at age 10, but I could not play it while someone was sleeping.

Explain:

The modal “could” has all the above meanings and time references.

  1. speculation/possibility/guessing, present or future
  2. polite request, present or future
  3. ability, past
  4. permission, past

The best way to understand the sentences is to look at the contexts.  This modal also provides some excellent examples in which a word has a past “appearance” but with a present or future meaning.

  • In Sentence #1, a polite request to close the windows in the near future; a speculation of rain in the near future
  • In Sentence #2, a speculation of who is knocking right now
  • In Sentence #3, an ability to play the violin in the past, but with no permission to do so while someone was sleeping.

 

Review:

Which meaning and time frame do the underlined verbs refer to?

a. speculation/possibility/guessing, present or future

b. polite request, present or future

c. ability, past

d. permission, past

  1. It’s so cold today.  The temperature could be as low as -20F outside.  It could get colder tomorrow. Could you check the heating system in the house?
  2. My grandfather developed arthritis in his 40s and could participate in a marathon race only with his doctor’s permission. However, in his younger days, he could run like an Olympic athlete.

 

 

Answers:

b, a; a; c; d

a, a, b; d; c

License