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  1. #1
    angelene001 is offline Member
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    Default be allowed to do vs could do

    Can we use "be allowed to" and "could" interchangeably when talking about the permission in the past?

    Or maybe the rules are the same like with "was able to" and "could" when talking about the ability in the past?

    For example:
    1. I could/was able to ride a bike when I was five -> repeated action in the past so we can use both
    2. I was able to help him with his problem -> single action in the past so we can use only "was able to"

    We can use "couldn't" for negations in 1 and 2.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: be allowed to do vs could do

    You were allowed to do something means you had permission to do it. Could is a broader term and usually means the ability to do something.

    You could climb the garden wall because you were young and strong, but you didn't because you weren't allowed to.

    Once in a while I hear could used in the sense of was allowed to. For example:

    My father was very permissive. I could use his car to go on dates whenever I wanted.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: be allowed to do vs could do

    Could is used as a past tense of can, but it is also used as a conditional modal, and a past tense for should, among other things. It's a difficult word to pin down. I wouldn't use it as a past tense of 'may' or 'be able' however.

  4. #4
    angelene001 is offline Member
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    Default Re: be allowed to do vs could do

    This is the information from a grammar book. Let me repeat:

    "When you talk about the ability in the past:

    1. I could/was able to ride a bike when I was five -> repeated action in the past or general ability so we can use both
    2. I was able to help him with his problem -> single action in the past, specific event so we can use only "was able to"



    I've found such information concerning permission in reference to the past:

    "Could can be used to talk about permission in general context:
    I could use my father's car when I was 16.
    With reference to a specific action at a specific time, was allowed to is used:
    I was allowed to use my father's car yesterday"

  5. #5
    angelene001 is offline Member
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    Default Re: be allowed to do vs could do

    I'm trying to find and understand the pattern.

    In the same book I've found the following:
    "Couldn't can express the prohibition to carry out an action:
    We couldn't watch TV yesterday"

    It seems that when we talk about permission in the past of lack of it, could can't be used to talk about single, specific situation but couldn't can be used

  6. #6
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    Default Re: be allowed to do vs could do

    Quote Originally Posted by angelene001 View Post
    I'm trying to find and understand the pattern.

    In the same book I've found the following:
    "Couldn't can express the prohibition to carry out an action:
    We couldn't watch TV yesterday"

    This usage in the sense of were not allowed is possible but colloquial and perhaps not very common.

    It seems that when we talk about permission in the past of lack of it, could can't be used to talk about single, specific situation but couldn't can be used

    No, I gave a counter-example in my earlier reply.
    .

  7. #7
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    Default Re: be allowed to do vs could do

    Quote Originally Posted by angelene001 View Post
    I've found such information concerning permission in reference to the past:

    "Could can be used to talk about permission in general context:
    I could use my father's car when I was 16.
    I don't entirely agree with this. There's not enough information there to signify that you mean you were allowed to. (Post #2 gives an example where it's OK). This would generally mean you were able to.

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