Could As An Auxiliary Verb

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Could is a modal auxiliary verb. There is no -s in the third person singular.

Could is used to indicate ability that existed in the past. It is followed by an infinitive without to.

Questions and negatives are made without do.


To talk about past ability in general

Could is often used to say that somebody was able to do something in the past.

Note that could refers to the past only when the context makes the time clear.

Could not (also couldn’t) shows past inability.

Could is used to talk about past ability in general. We do not normally use could to say that somebody managed to do something on one occasion. But with certain verbs like see, hear, taste, feel, smell, understand, remember etc., could can be used for particular occasions as well.

As the past equivalent of can

Could is the past equivalent of can in indirect speech.

To make polite requests or offers

Could is often used to make a request or offer sound more polite.

To express possibility or uncertainty

Could can mean would be able to.

Could have + past participle

The structure could have + past participle can be used to criticize people for not doing things. It can also be used to talk about past events that did not happen.

Sections in this article

Modal Auxiliary Verbs
May and Can: differences
Should: other uses
Must: uses
Must and have to: The Difference
Ought to
Had better
Should, Ought and Must: The difference
Primary auxiliaries

Tenses exercises and worksheets

Mistakes with verbs | Exercise 1
Mistakes with verbs | Exercise 2
Mistakes with verbs | Exercise 3
Mistakes with verbs | Exercise 4

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