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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#11), by Dennis Oliver


Modal Verbs #11:
Individual Modal Verbs


The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

In this Hint, we'll look at some basic information on could.


Could #1:
Can in Indirect Speech
when the
Main Verb is Past


The modal auxiliary could is used in several very different
ways. One happens when sentences with
can are used in
indirect (reported) speech and the main verb is past.


Bill said, "Can you help me, Carol?" ----->
Bill asked Carol if she
could help him.

Carol replied, "I can't now, but I can later." ----->
Carol replied that she
couldn't help Bill then
but added that she
could help him later.

Lucy said, "Can you speak Thai, Dave?" ----->
Lucy asked Dave if he
could speak Thai.

Dave replied, "I can understand it better than
I can speak it. ----->

Dave answered that he could understand Thai
better than he
could speak it.

Bobby: "Can I have some dessert, Mom?" ----->
Bobby asked his mother if he
could have
some dessert.

Bobby's mother said, "No, you can't, Bobby,
because you haven't finished your vegetables. ----->

Bobby's mother told him that he couldn't have
any dessert because he hadn't finished his vegetables.


Special Notes:

1. The time for can is still present or future in the
indirect-speech sentences above. In the sentences,
can changes to could "artificially" because the
main verb is past.

In an indirect-speech speech sentence, it's possible
not to change the verb after
can if it refers to
something that is in general time:

Dave said, "I can understand Thai better than
I can speak it. -----> Dave said that he
understand Thai better than he
can speak it.

(The sentence is also correct with could.)

3.   The negative of could in sentences such as
the sentences above is
couldn't (or could not).


Next: more on modal verbs
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