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    • Join Date: Apr 2008
    • Posts: 3

    Question could / was able to

    I'm a teacher but am having problems explaining some of the differences in modal meaning.
    A pupil who has just returned from England said, " I could visit Cambridge, the British Museum and Rugby". My gut reaction is that she should have used "I was able to", but please can someone explain why.
    thank you

    • Join Date: Nov 2007
    • Posts: 5,409

    Re: could / was able to

    Trust your gut.

    'could' is used to indicate possibility : they could be right | I would go if I could afford it.
    • used in making polite requests : could I use the phone?
    • used in making suggestions : you could always phone him.
    • used to indicate annoyance because of something that has not been done : they could have told me!
    • used to indicate a strong inclination to do something : he irritates me so much that I could scream.

    " I could visit Cambridge, the British Museum and Rugby"
    This, and 'I go to...', sounds so American! 'While I was there, I could visit...' where 'could' is used instead of 'I was able to/had the opportunity to'
    The sentence as it stands means to me, 'if I go to England I could...'
    'I'll be free to get about with the hire car, so I could...
    The person is in England, and is tossing up ideas for sightseeing: 'I could go to Rugby and see Cambridge on the way back, or...'


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