could

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From Middle English coude, from Old English cuþ, preterite form of cunnan (to be able). The addition of the silent 'l' was likely a misappropriation attempting to normalize with modal verbs will/would and shall/should. However, while the letter l was historically pronounced in the latter two, can never did have an l sound in it.

Pronunciation[edit]

Verb[edit]

could

  1. simple past tense of can
    1. Used as a past indicative.
      Before I was blind, I could see very well.
    2. Used as a past subjunctive (irrealis).
      I think he could do it if he really wanted to.
      I wish I could fly!
  2. Used to politely ask for permission to do something.
    Could I borrow your coat?
  3. Used to politely ask for someone else to do something.
    Could you proofread this email?
  4. Used to show the possibility that something might happen.
    • 2013 June 29, “Travels and travails”, The Economist, volume 407, number 8842, page 55: 
      Even without hovering drones, a lurking assassin, a thumping score and a denouement, the real-life story of Edward Snowden, a rogue spy on the run, could be straight out of the cinema. But, as with Hollywood, the subplots and exotic locations may distract from the real message: America’s discomfort and its foes’ glee.
    We could rearrange the time if you like.
  5. Used to suggest something.
    You could try adding more salt to the soup.

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