[Grammar] How could you do that to me?

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andi harper

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Hello, everyone. Could you please explain to me the difference between How could you do that to me? and How could you have done that to me? when asked as referring to a past action of somebody doing something bad to you?
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bhaisahab

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There is no difference in meaning.
 

andi harper

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There is no difference in meaning.

Hi. I know that there's no difference in meaning, I was asking about the grammatical use, like when do I use which?
 

bhaisahab

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They are more or less interchangeable.
 

Matthew Wai

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I think the first one could refer to a regular/habitual act in the present, as in 'You often shift the responsibility onto me. How could you do that to me?'
 

andi harper

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Yes, but andi's question was specifically about a past action.
Exactly. I want to know in what sense the modal verb Could is used in "How could you do that to me?" when asked in reference to a past action.
 

emsr2d2

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I would use "How could you do that to me?" to refer to something someone did to me in the past more frequently than I would use "How could you have done that to me?"
 

andi harper

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I would use "How could you do that to me?" to refer to something someone did to me in the past more frequently than I would use "How could you have done that to me?"

And in what sense is the modal verb Could used in "How could you do that to me?" It's not a past ability, is it?
 
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emsr2d2

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No. It's more like "How could you bring yourself to be so mean to me?" Everyone is capable of being mean.
 

andi harper

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No. It's more like "How could you bring yourself to be so mean to me?" Everyone is capable of being mean.
So it's more like asking generally with no focus on the past tense as opposed to "How could you have done that to me?" Is that it?
 

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And in what sense the modal verb Could is used in "How could you do that to me?" It's not a past ability, is it?

Andi, you should use inverted phrasing when writing questions: In what sense is the modal verb "could" used in this sentence?
 

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'Could
1 used as the past tense of 'can' to say what someone was able to do or was allowed to do in the past.'── quoted from www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/could

Does the above definition fit 'How could you' below? If yes, does it refer to 'was able to do' or 'was allowed to do' in the past? If not, what is the correct definition?

I would use "How could you do that to me?" to refer to something someone did to me in the past
 

emsr2d2

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I'll be brutally honest, I can't justify either definition as fitting our usage of "How could you?" It doesn't mean that the person was "allowed" or "able" to do whatever it was. It basically expresses the speaker's surprise/amazement/horror at the simple fact that the listener actually did it.
 

bhaisahab

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You could say it expresses surprise that the listener had the desire to do it.
 

andi harper

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I'll be brutally honest, I can't justify either definition as fitting our usage of "How could you?" It doesn't mean that the person was "allowed" or "able" to do whatever it was. It basically expresses the speaker's surprise/amazement/horror at the simple fact that the listener actually did it.


Doesn't How could you have done that to me? express surprise/amazement/horror as well?
 

Rover_KE

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Matthew Wai

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'How could you do that to me?' does not refer to the past grammatically, but native speakers somehow like to say it to express surprise/amazement/horror at what the listener did in the past.

Is it acceptable to say the above?
 

bhaisahab

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Then why do we need to use How could you do that to me?


If you don't like it, don't use it. English speakers have a choice. I expect Russian speakers also have a choice of how to say things.
 
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