Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: Can or could

  1. Newbie
    Student or Learner
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • Hong Kong
      • Current Location:
      • Singapore

    • Join Date: Mar 2017
    • Posts: 2
    #1

    Can or could

    Do I use can or could in this situation?

    They were so hungry that they could/can eat a horse if they wanted.

    Are there any situation when you use can instead?

  2. Barb_D's Avatar
    Moderator
    Other
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Mar 2007
    • Posts: 19,062
    #2

    Re: Can or could

    I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
    I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  3. Newbie
    Student or Learner
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • Hong Kong
      • Current Location:
      • Singapore

    • Join Date: Mar 2017
    • Posts: 2
    #3

    Re: Can or could

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
    I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse.
    Thank you for your reply. But I don't really understand. Do we use could in your first sentence because it is a possibility even though you start off with present tense?

    If I change to this sentence

    His leg was so strong that he can run in marathon if he wanted to.

    Is this correct? Or should I have use could instead?

  4. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan

    • Join Date: Nov 2002
    • Posts: 66,915
    #4

    Re: Can or could

    Quote Originally Posted by Jlsg View Post
    They were so hungry that they could/can eat a horse if they wanted.

    Are there any situation when you use can instead?
    Not with this sentence.

  5. VIP Member
    Interested in Language
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Dec 2015
    • Posts: 14,706
    #5

    Re: Can or could

    Quote Originally Posted by Jlsg View Post
    His leg was so strong that he can run in marathon if he wanted to.

    Is this correct? Or should I have use could instead?
    You have to use could. You can only use can if you're talking about a factual situation in the present tense: He's in such good shape that he can run ten miles without getting tired.
    Last edited by GoesStation; 28-Mar-2017 at 15:15. Reason: Make my quote more realistic.
    I am not a teacher.

  6. jutfrank's Avatar
    VIP Member
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • England

    • Join Date: Mar 2014
    • Posts: 8,645
    #6

    Re: Can or could

    Quote Originally Posted by Jlsg View Post
    His leg was so strong that he can run in marathon if he wanted to.

    Is this correct?
    No, it's not correct.

    Look:

    They are so hungry that they could eat a horse. [present]

    The were so hungry that they could have eaten a horse.
    [past]

    It is easy to get confused with can and could.

    Sometimes, can means present ability and sometimes could means past ability.
    Sometimes, could means present or future possibility and could have + verb3 means past possibility.
    Last edited by jutfrank; 28-Mar-2017 at 15:21.

  7. Editor, UsingEnglish.com
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • UK
      • Current Location:
      • Japan

    • Join Date: Nov 2002
    • Posts: 66,915
    #7

    Re: Can or could

    Quote Originally Posted by Jlsg View Post
    His leg was so strong that he can run in marathon if he wanted to.

    Is this correct? Or should I have use could instead?
    You should use could because it is still an imaginary situation. You could use can in a sentence like this, where it descries a real situation:

    His legs are so strong that he can run a marathon every week without any problem. (He does run a marathon a week.)

Posting Permissions

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