Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 11
  1. #1
    joham is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Student or Learner
      • Native Language:
      • Chinese
      • Home Country:
      • China
      • Current Location:
      • China
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,519
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default the plane could take off

    We netfriends are arguing about whether the sentence 'When the storm stopped, the plane could take off.' is correct about the use of 'could'. I thought it was correct. I made these two sentences:

    Many passengers were anxious, but not me. When the storm stopped, the plane could take off. I didn't know why they should be anxious.

    They had to stop working because of the rain. But when the rain stopped, they could go on. I was sure they could finish before dark.

    In these two sentences, I mean the 'could' is equal to 'would be able to' and is used to indicate 'a real possibility' seen from a past point of time.

    Could I ask native English teachers to check these three sentences in bold, especiall the use of 'could'?

    Thank you very much.

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Posts
    43,401
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    'Could' in those sentences carries the 'was/were able to' sense to me, but as such they're ok.

  3. #3
    riverkid is offline Banned
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,063
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    We netfriends are arguing about whether the sentence

    'When the storm stopped, the plane could take off.'

    is correct about the use of 'could'.

    I thought it was correct. I made these two sentences:

    Many passengers were anxious, but not me. When the storm stopped, the plane could take off. I didn't know why they should be anxious.

    They had to stop working because of the rain. But when the rain stopped, they could go on. I was sure they could finish before dark.

    In these two sentences, I mean the 'could' is equal to 'would be able to' and is used to indicate 'a real possibility' seen from a past point of time.

    Could I ask native English teachers to check these three sentences in bold, especially the use of 'could'?

    Thank you very much.
    I disagree that 'could' can be used in all of these situations. The only one where it is acceptable is where I've bolded it and put it in red. This is because it's speculative on the part of the speaker, Joham.

    In the other situations, bolded and in blue, 'was/were able to' would be needed. 'could' is not used to describe a one time past event except for a very narrow range of state type verbs.

  4. #4
    joham is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Student or Learner
      • Native Language:
      • Chinese
      • Home Country:
      • China
      • Current Location:
      • China
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,519
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    I disagree that 'could' can be used in all of these situations. The only one where it is acceptable is where I've bolded it and put it in red. This is because it's speculative on the part of the speaker, Joham.

    In the other situations, bolded and in blue, 'was/were able to' would be needed. 'could' is not used to describe a one time past event except for a very narrow range of state type verbs.
    Dear Riverkid,
    When I said 'Many passengers were anxious, but not me. When the storm stopped, the plane could take off. I didn't know why they should be anxious' I meant 'Many passengers were anxious, but not me. I thought, 'When the storm stops, the plane can take off.' I didn't know why they should be anxious'

    And this is true for the next sentence:
    They had to stop working because of the rain. But when the rain stopped, they could go on. (I used this sentence to mean what I thought at the time: 'When the rain stops, they can go on.' )I was sure they could finish before dark.

    I'd like to stress that 'When the storm stopped, the plane could take off' is equal to 'I thought (not I speculated), 'When the storm stops, the plan can take off.' And I didn't mean 'could' to be 'was/ were able to' either.

    I wondered if I was still wrong. Could you further help me? Thank you very much.

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Posts
    43,401
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post

    In the other situations, bolded and in blue, 'was/were able to' would be needed. 'could' is not used to describe a one time past event except for a very narrow range of state type verbs.
    I am afraid thatI am going to have to disagree with this; people do use 'could' with single occurrences. While we commonly use 'was/were able', it isn't exclusive. In the negative especially, we routinely use 'could'.

  6. #6
    riverkid is offline Banned
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,063
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    Dear Riverkid,
    When I said 'Many passengers were anxious, but not me. When the storm stopped, the plane could take off. I didn't know why they should be anxious' I meant 'Many passengers were anxious, but not me. I thought, 'When the storm stops, the plane can take off.' I didn't know why they should be anxious'

    I think I understand what you were "feeling", Joham, but your feelings make no difference to the choice of verb to match,

    "When the storm stops, the plane can take off".


    To tell about this event, it would be unnatural to use 'could'; we would opt for 'was able to', as in,

    "When the storm stopped, the plane was able to take off".

    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language {page 197}

    Restriction on use of could in affirmative contexts

    An important restriction is that could does not normally appear in affirmative contexts when it is a matter of actualization of a single situation viewed perfectively. Compare:

    [48] i I left early but still couldn't get a seat. [non-affirmative]
    ii * I left early and could get a seat.

    {* denotes ungrammatical}

    In [ii] we need was able.




    And this is true for the next sentence:
    They had to stop working because of the rain. But when the rain stopped, they could go on. (I used this sentence to mean what I thought at the time: 'When the rain stops, they can go on.' )

    Here again, we do not use could to talk about these one time events.



    I was sure they could finish before dark.

    More thought is needed here.

    I'd like to stress that 'When the storm stopped, the plane could take off' is equal to 'I thought (not I speculated), 'When the storm stops, the plan can take off.' And I didn't mean 'could' to be 'was/ were able to' either.

    Now I'm not absolutely certain I understand/understood all your feelings. I didn't believe that there was speculation on your part for the plane example. Thinking anew and at the risk of confusing this further, I won't replace anything I said above, but your plane example may well be just an example of your "reported thoughts" and as such would be "reported speech".

    I wondered if I was still wrong. Could you further help me? Thank you very much.
    ##

  7. #7
    joham is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • Student or Learner
      • Native Language:
      • Chinese
      • Home Country:
      • China
      • Current Location:
      • China
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,519
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    ##
    Yes, dear Tdol and Riverkid, what I meant was 'reported thoughts'. But I'm sorry I was not able to get my meaning across in a clear and correct way in the first place. So when you answered my question, I was still confused. Would 'When the storm stopped, the plane could take off (not meaning 'was able to take off)', used as reported thoughts, be correct then?

    Thank you very much.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Posts
    19
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    I am afraid thatI am going to have to disagree with this; people do use 'could' with single occurrences. While we commonly use 'was/were able', it isn't exclusive. In the negative especially, we routinely use 'could'.
    I agree. A quick Google search yielded the following from A Christmas Carol:

    "
    When she stopped, Scrooge could see that she was a few years older. She was in a parlor that had been brightly decorated for Christmas. Children laughed and played at her feet. A little girl threw her arms around the woman and gave her a kiss."

    There are other similar examples. Did Dickens make a grammatical error
    ?


  9. #9
    riverkid is offline Banned
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,063
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by acorn View Post
    I agree. A quick Google search yielded the following from A Christmas Carol:

    "

    When she stopped, Scrooge could see that she was a few years older. She was in a parlor that had been brightly decorated for Christmas. Children laughed and played at her feet. A little girl threw her arms around the woman and gave her a kiss."

    There are other similar examples. Did Dickens make a grammatical error
    ?

    No, Acorn, there are a limited number of sensory verbs where we do use 'could' like this but it doesn't extend to Joham's examples. Scrooge was in a state of being able to see something, "that the girl was a few years older".

    Look at this example.

    Joe: I can run a mile in under six minutes.

    {Joe runs mile in 5:55}

    Joe: *See, I could run a mile in under six minutes.*

    The asterisks (*) denote ungrammatical for the situation. The meaning of Joe's second statement holds a conditional future meaning, as in,

    See, I could run a mile in under six minutes, if I were to train for a time.

  10. #10
    riverkid is offline Banned
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    3,063
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Re: the plane could take off

    Quote Originally Posted by joham View Post
    Yes, dear Tdol and Riverkid, what I meant was 'reported thoughts'. But I'm sorry I was not able to get my meaning across in a clear and correct way in the first place. So when you answered my question, I was still confused. Would 'When the storm stopped, the plane could take off (not meaning 'was able to take off)', used as reported thoughts, be correct then?

    Thank you very much.
    Of course as reported speech/thoughts these types of examples are fine, Joham, but they would likely be prefaced with, "I thought/I believed" or some such reported speech indicator. Standing alone they would be confusing.

    But remember, and this is very important; it cannot be stressed enough! The shifting that occurs, it's called backshifting, from a present tense to a past tense is only in FORM. For the modals this shift occurs to the HISTORICAL past tense forms, not to any real past tense form as in, jump -->jumped, run -->ran.

    There is not actual shift to a real past tense. The shift is ONLY to indicate that the speech is reported speech, not direct/quoted speech.

    That's why without the reported speech indicators, this would sound as if it were a conditional statement, not a description of a past time event.

Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. plane
    By peter123 in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 12-Nov-2007, 15:08
  2. plane crash
    By blouen in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 17-Sep-2007, 12:33
  3. A Plane
    By namsteven in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 25-Jun-2007, 16:56
  4. fly on a plane- fly by plane
    By Humble in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 19-Aug-2006, 07:43
  5. in a car, on a plane
    By rmoore in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 29-Nov-2005, 04:59

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •