Auxiliary Verb COULD

Auxiliary Verb COULD :

CAN : to be able : (modal + vero)
CAN - 3rd person singular
CAN - ability :

1. I can speak Hindi. But I can't write it.
2. She could swim for miles when she was younger.

COULD : (verb) - 3rd person singular
COULDN'T - negative short form - (modal + verb)
COULD - describes CAN in the past
COULD – request

1. Can you close the door, please?
2. Could you close the door, please?


COULD is used to talk about ability not about particular events which actually happened in the past.

Verbs like manage to or be able to are used instead,

1. She finally managed to pass the exam.

Polite requests are often made by appearing to ask about ability with CAN and COULD.

MAY : (verb) - 3rd person singular - modal - verb
MAYN'T - Negative short form
MAY - used to show possibility
MAY - to be perhaps likely to

MIGHT : (verb) 3rd person singular
MIGHTN'T - Negative short form - (modal + verb)
MIGHT - used to show very slight possibility

Permission :

1. Can I have another piece of bread?
2. May I have another piece of bread, Mummy?
3. No. You can't. You’ll make yourself sick.


CAN is commonly used to ask for or give permission.
MAY is more formal.

1. Do you think I could leave early to night? (Request)
2. You can leave at 5.30 if you like.
3. You may leave at 5.30 if you like.
4. I'm afraid you can't leave till you have finished that work.
5. Might I have a word with you? (Formal request)


COULD and MIGHT are used to ask for (not to give) permission. They are more tentative than CAN.

Possibility :

1. She may go to Ahmedabad tomorrow.
2. She may not go to Ahmedabad tomorrow.
3. She might go to Ahmedabad tomorrow.
4. She might not go to Ahmedabad tomorrow.
5. They may be meeting her.
6. They might be meeting her.
7. They may not be meeting her.
8. They might not be meeting her.
9. John may have missed the bus.
10. John might have missed the bus.
11. Where can they be?
12. Where could they be?
13. You can't have forgotten the engagement?
14. Learning Hindi can be fun.
15. Learning Hindi can be sometimes fun.
16. Don't touch that wire. It could be dangerous.
17. They could have had an accident, I suppose.


COULD suggests that something is less likely than MAY or MIGHT.

When it expresses possibility, CAN is most often used in question forms.

1. That can have happened?

However it is also used to express general possibility in sentences where its meaning is similar to "sometimes".

1. His behaviour can make us laugh.
2. His behaviour sometimes makes us laugh.

CAN'T and CAN'T HAVE are used to show that there is no possibility.

Auxiliary Verb COULD

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The Grammar Index

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