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Thursday, 24 January 2008

AAE Q120: 'could' vs 'could have'

Hi Matt,

What is the difference in meaning between the two sentences?:

Ken´s aunt wanted him to drive her to the airport on Tuesday:

  1. He couldn´t have driven her to the airport because his car had been stolen.
  2. He couldn´t drive her to the airport because his car had been stolen.
Thanks

Pavla


Hi,

The difference between the two sentences is a difference in the meaning of the modal verb 'could'.

In the first sentence 'could' is used to express possibility (in the past):
  • 'He couldn´t have driven her' means that it was not possible for him to drive her to the airport; it was impossible for him because the car had been stolen..
In the second sentence 'could' is used to express ability (in the past):
  • 'He couldn´t drive her' means that he was unable to drive her to the airport; he no longer had the ability to drive her because the car had been stolen.
Hope this helps

M

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