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  1. keannu's Avatar
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    #1

    would, could, might? Are they fictional verbs?

    Please see the below.

    Man(not a mechanic) : Oh, no! My car broke down. What do I do?
    Woman(not a mechanic) : If I were a mechanic, I would(could, might) fix it. But I'm not a mechanic. Can you fix it?
    Man: If I could fix it, I wouldn't be worried!

    Can you tell the difference between the first could and second could in terms of nuance? Whenever I teach my students, I always tell them that in the conditional clause, the meaning of past tense or past perfect tense is assuming falsity. For example,.
    1. If I were the president of Korea, I would unify the two Koreas.
    2. If I had been born as Obama, I would be the president of USA.

    For 1, the statement "I was a boy" for myself in the past was true, but it's not true anymore as of now, so the reason why they use past tense to assume a falsity of the present is because what happened in the past is no more true now at all, so past tense has false nuance.

    For2, the statement "Before I was a college student, I had been a highschooler" for myself, the fact "I had been a high schooler" had been true before my university days, but it became false when I came into university. That's why past perfect is used to assume a falsity in the past.

    I think fivejedjon can understand what I'm saying. So in the top example, do both "could" have the same nuance of falsity? or does the first one just have a weak "capability" for an imaginary result? The second one definitely means falsity meaning "I can't do it, but if I can do it..".

    If you understand what I'm saying, you can also comment on "If I had been a mechanic, I could have fixed it" for if this "could" also means falsity or weak capability.

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    #2

    Re: would, could, might? Are they fictional verbs?

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    Please see the below.

    Man(not a mechanic) : Oh, no! My car broke down. What do I do?
    Woman(not a mechanic) : If I were a mechanic, I would(could, might) fix it. But I'm not a mechanic. Can you fix it?
    Man: If I could fix it, I wouldn't be worried!

    Can you tell the difference between the first could and second could in terms of nuance?
    I'll do better than that: I'll tell you the difference in terms of grammar!

    The understandable confusion that students are caused by the use of the word 'could' derives from the fact that - reckoned by the lights of traditional grammar - it can function as a form of three different moods of the verb 'can': indicative, subjunctive and conditional. In

    When I was young, I could run fast.

    (= was able to...) it is past indicative, while in

    It would make such a difference if she could help us.

    (= were able to...) it is past subjunctive, and in

    If I were rich, I could buy a yacht.

    (= would be able to) it is present conditional*.

    In hypothetical if-clauses, it occurs typically in counterfactual 2nd conditionals, either as a subjunctive form in the protasis denoting an unreal present ability, or as a conditional form in the apodosis denoting an imagined consequence.

    It is, of course, perfectly possible for both forms to occur within the same sentence, e.g.

    If you could help me, I could finish the job much sooner.

    * popular name; more accurately, though, conditional imperfect.

  2. 5jj's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: would, could, might? Are they fictional verbs?

    Note philos's use of 'hypothetical' and counterfactual', keannu. These are more usefully neutral terms than 'false', which might suggest some form of deception.

    Your question as to whether 'could' can have a weak capability for an imaginary result is a difficult one to answer. Context is so important. I'll just give two example to illustrate the point.

    1. I can't do it now; I'm too busy. I could have done it yesterday if you had asked me - I had plenty of time then.
    = I would have been able to / it would have been possible for me.
    ...I did not do it yesterday.

    2. Luke: Did Lindsay go to the concert by herself las Tuesday?
    ...Emma: Well, I know Peter managed to get a ticket, so they could have gone together.
    = They had the ability/possibilty to go together / It is possible that they went together.
    ...
    We don't actually know if they went together. It is not really possible to generalise in such situations, though some books make the attempt. I know I am repeating myself, but the point needs to be made: context is very important.

  3. Khosro's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: would, could, might? Are they fictional verbs?

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    It would make such a difference if she could help us.

    (= were able to...) it is past subjunctive, and in

    If I were rich, I could buy a yacht.

    (= would be able to) it is present conditional*.


    * popular name; more accurately, though, conditional imperfect.
    Thank you! Philo2009 explained it grammatically and it was really enlightening for me and fivejedjon note that "could" might have an implication of ability and posibility both, according to the context.

    My question is about grammar terms. In the second sentence above, are we allowed to call "were" a past subjunctive?

  4. 5jj's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: would, could, might? Are they fictional verbs?

    Quote Originally Posted by Khosro View Post
    My question is about grammar terms. In the second sentence above, are we allowed to call "were" a past subjunctive?
    Most grammar books consider it to be a past subjunctive.

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