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    #1

    A foray into understanding Past Possibility.

    Hello Friends,

    I am given to understand that there is a slight difference between how 'Could' and 'could have' are used to denote past possibility. However, I don't have much knowledge how and why they differ. For example,

    He could be in a different city on that partcular day.(General past possibility)

    He could have been in a different city on that partcular day.(Perhaps he was in a different city)

    Either of these sentnces denotes past possibility. But I am not what is the real difference between these two sentences.

    What I have learned that when 'could' is used for denoting 'General past possibility' (As 'Could' is used to denote 'General ability' in the past)
    and 'Could have' can be used for denoting a particular possibility.

    Could anyone please let me whether 'Could' is used to denote 'General possibility' in the past
    (As 'Could' is used to denote 'General ability' in the past)

    For example:

    Getting jobs could be very easy in the USA in the 1950s. (General possibility)

    He could have got the job easily due to his formadible qualification.(Perhaps, he got the job easily)

    My other question is whether we can use 'Can' to denote past possibility?

    Please help me in this regard.

    Regards,
    Sabya


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    #2

    Re: A foray into understanding Past Possibility.

    I am given to understand that there is a slight difference between how 'could' and 'could have' are used to denote past possibility.

    How beautifully expressed! and with a Title like A foray into understanding Past Possibility., I hope my response goes some way to easing any hostile tension between you and the tenses.
    He could be in a different city on that partcular day.(General past possibility)
    NO. Imagine John's secretary in Madras is talking to me about trying to arrange to see John who is busy and just leaving on a trip around India. I say, "Can I catch him in Delhi next Thursday? I'll be there on that." The secretary says: "Next Thursday? I'll check his itinerary. He could be in Agra on that particular day."
    The tense indicates future possibility.

    He could have been in a different city on that partcular day.(Perhaps he was in a different city)
    Yes. This is in the past. We didn't catch up last Thursday. He was supposed to be in Agra on Thursday but maybe plans got changed. "He could have been in a different city last Thursday."

    Either of these sentnces denotes past possibility. But I am not what is the real difference between these two sentences.
    Are you still in doubt with these two sentences?



    Getting jobs could be very easy in the USA in the 1950s. (General possibility)
    'could be' indicates something in the future: "He could be an astronaut when he grows up."

    He could have got the job easily with his formidible (note the correct spelling) qualification.(Perhaps, he got the job easily)

    NO. He didn't get the job. "He could have got the job easily with his formidable qualifications, but he comes across as so arrogant and full of himself employers don't want a bar of him." OR "...if he had applied."

    Note: 'formidable' is pronounced as in "FOR-midable'. Not that ear-jangling oh so frequently heard 'forMIDable'
    Last edited by David L.; 26-Jun-2008 at 00:39.


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    #3

    Re: A foray into understanding Past Possibility.

    Quote Originally Posted by sabyakgp View Post
    Hello Friends,

    I am given to understand that there is a slight difference between how 'Could' and 'could have' are used to denote past possibility. However, I don't have much knowledge how and why they differ. For example,

    He could be in a different city on that particular day.([General past] Future possibility)

    Without 'have + PP' the modal verbs don't describe past events in the manner that lexical verbs do, Sabya.

    I'm going to jump over the log. [jumps] I jumped over the log.

    I can jump over the log. [jumps] *I could jump over the log.*

    The reason that modal verbs can't do this is because they are tenseless in modern English.

    We can and do use two historical past tense forms, 'could' & 'would' to describe past events but they only describe a general past condition/ability.

    would - My grandma would always stroke my head and sing softly to me when I was sick.

    could- When I was young I could climb a tree lickety split.



    He could have been in a different city on that particular day.(Perhaps he was in a different city)

    Either of these sentences denotes past possibility. But I am not what is the real difference between these two sentences.



    What I have learned that when 'could' is used for denoting 'General past possibility' (As 'Could' is used to denote 'General ability' in the past)
    and 'Could have' can be used for denoting a particular possibility.

    Could anyone please let me whether 'Could' is used to denote 'General possibility' in the past
    (As 'Could' is used to denote 'General ability' in the past)

    For example:

    Getting jobs could be very easy in the USA in the 1950s. (General possibility)

    This one sounds a mite odd. It's probably that it doesn't describe a routine/general condition. It speculates as to one and this isn't a job that 'could' can do.

    3. He could have got the job easily due to his formidable qualification.
    (Perhaps, he got the job easily)

    Number 3 doesn't seem to say, "Perhaps, he got the job easily". Without 'easily', it could suggest that he got the job due to ... .



    My other question is whether we can use 'Can' to denote past possibility?

    Regards,
    Sabya
    Yes, because modals are tenseless, they can operate in all time situations.

    A: Did you read what David wrote? [shows it to everyone]

    David wrote: Note: 'formidable' is pronounced as in "FOR-midable'. Not that ear-jangling oh so frequently heard 'forMIDable'.

    B: David can't have written that. That's just so, so, so, ...

    C: Prescriptive?

    B: Yes that's it, "prescriptive"!

    C: Ooooh, he sure can have written that. Sometimes he can be quite the prescriptivist.

    Here in this imaginary little scenario, we can see that 'can' also be used in the past.
    Last edited by riverkid; 26-Jun-2008 at 01:21.

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    #4

    Re: A foray into understanding Past Possibility.

    Thanks a lot David and Riverkid.

    Following are the propositions I can derive from your suggestions.

    1) 'Can' is capable of denoting present and past tense (with have + pp in case of past tense) I believe that 'Can' can't denote future possibility or ability.

    2) 'Could' can denote past (with have + pp), present and future possibility and ability (in the past it's general ability).

    A few grammar books suggests that 'Could' may express general ability which may be perceived as 'General possibility', though it's a different kind of possibility (can be described as ROOT POSSIBILITY), and 'Could have + pp' denotes EPISTEMIC POSSIBILITY.

    In my illustrative sentence:

    'Getting jobs could be very easy in the USA in the 1950s'. I wanted to mean that it's merely a general ability (It was possible/people were able to get jobs easily in the 50s in the USA).

    IMHO the preceeding sentence can be perceived as a general ability, so usage of 'Could' could be legitimized here.

    Please let me know your insightful opinion.

    Regards,
    Sabya

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