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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#17), by Dennis Oliver


Modal Verbs #17:
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 more about could have.


Could Have #2
(unreal past conditions)


We know from earlier Hints that could has several different
uses in present or future time, that
could also shows ability
in the past, and that
could has a past form, could have,
which is followed by the
past participle of the main verb:

The could have form is also used in "if" sentences to show
unreal conditions in past time. Conditional sentences of
this kind refer to hypothetical, impossible, contrary-to-fact,
unreal situations. In them,
could have shows a possibility
that didn't happen.


could have asked for help if you had wanted to.

(It was possible for you to ask for help, but you didnt want to.)


If Julia had had enough money, she
could have bought a car.

(It wasn't possible for Julia to buy a car because she didn't
have enough money.)


Julia could have made a down payment on a car if she
hadn't paid so much money for her new computer.

(It wasn't possible for Julia to make a down payment on
a car because she paid too much money for her new computer.)


Special Notes:

1. Remember that could have is used to show
possibility in the past. It is
not used to show
past ability or past permission.

To show past ability in unreal conditional sentences,
had been able or would have been able:

I would have helped you if I had been able to.
(I didn't help you because I wasn't able to.)

If he had had enough time, he would have
to do a good job. (He wasn't able
to do a good job because he didn't have enough time.)


To show past permission in unreal conditional
sentences, use
had had permission:

I would have left early if I had had permission.
(I didn't leave early because I didn't have permission


Next: more on modal verbs

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