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    #1

    expressing almost zero probability

    Suppose it's been a while since me and my friend graduated from high school.
    We see our former classmate heading down the street. She is pretty and stuff. So I say to my friend "She could have been your wife." meaning that the way things turned out it's very unlikely that she will be his wife?

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    #2

    Re: expressing almost zero probability

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillnetter View Post
    To me this means that there was a chance in the past of her being his wife. I don't see how this carries any thought of the present or the future. It's similar to, "I could have been a contender." - there was a chance in the past of my being a contender.
    If I said "she could have been your wife now" similiar to "it would have been realy nice to go to the movies but I'm swamped with work."?

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    #3

    Re: expressing almost zero probability

    One of the problems with these 'modal perfect' constructions is that there is often a range of possible interpretations. The one intended is usually, but not always, clear to the participants in the conversation; sometimes one speaker will ask for clarification.

    Let's look at Ostap's first situation: We see our former classmate heading down the street. She is pretty and stuff. So I say to my friend "She could have been your wife."

    I think it is possible to interpret this as : There was a possibility in the past of your marrying her. If that had happened, she would be your wife now.

    The second: "It would have been really nice to go to the movies but I'm swamped with work."?

    This is possible with the idea: I regret that I was unable to go to the movies, because I am very busy at present.

    'At present' is the time around now, which extends as far back as the movie-going time. A simpler example of this would be:

    I didn't go to the movies this evening because I am very busy.



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