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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#18), by Dennis Oliver


Modal Verbs #18:
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 a special use for could have and
couln't have.


Could Have / Couldn't Have #3
(special expressions)


We know from earlier Hints that could has several different
uses in present or future time and that
could also shows ability
in the past. In addition, we know that
could has a past form,
could have, which is followed by the past participle of the
main verb and that
could have shows possibility in the past
and can also be used in past unreal conditional sentences.

The could have form is also used in another special way
with comparative forms.

When could have is used in this way, the meaning is
something like 'not (verb) as _____ as possible':

I could have done better. =
I didn't do as well as possible (I didn't do very well).

I could have spent less. =
I didn't spend as little as possible (I spent more than
I planned).

More Examples:

A: How was your TOEFL score?
B: It
could have been better.

(B's TOEFL score wasn't as good as possible: B didn't do
well on the TOEFL.)


A: How was the food at the party?
B: Delicious! But there
could have been more of it!

(B thinks there wasn't as much food as possible: B thinks
that there wasn't enough food.)


couldn't have is used in this way, the meaning is
'(verb) as _____ as possible' or 'very _____':

I couldn't have been more satisfied. =
I was as satisfied as possible (I was very satisfied).

I couldn't have been more pleased. =
I was as pleased as possible (I was very pleased).

More Examples:

A: How did you feel after the TOEFL?
B: I
couldn't have felt worse.

(B felt as bad as possible after the TOEFL: B felt very bad..)


A: Did you enjoy the party?
B: I
couldn't have had a better time!

(B had as good a time as possible at the party: B had.
a very good time.)


Next: more on modal verbs

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