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could have+past participle vs. could+infinitive

 
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Maciek



Joined: 22 Feb 2004
Posts: 12
Location: Poland

PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 10:05 pm    Post subject: could have+past participle vs. could+infinitive Reply with quote

Hi,

Please correct me if I am mistaken in the understanding of the difference between these two utterances:


He could go home.- it was possible for him to go home but it's unknown if he did.


He could have gone home.- it was possible but he we know he didn't.

Many thanks for your comments.
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Lorikeet



Joined: 18 May 2003
Posts: 1366
Location: San Francisco, California

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 2:06 am    Post subject: Re: could have+past participle vs. could+infinitive Reply with quote

Maciek wrote:
Hi,

Please correct me if I am mistaken in the understanding of the difference between these two utterances:


He could go home.- it was possible for him to go home but it's unknown if he did.


He could have gone home.- it was possible but he we know he didn't.

Many thanks for your comments.


Well, I can also accept:

A: Where's John? I thought he was here.
B: Hmm. I saw him earlier. He could have gone home. I'm not sure. You can call him and check if you want.

In this case, the "but we know he didn't" part isn't true.
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Maciek



Joined: 22 Feb 2004
Posts: 12
Location: Poland

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Lorikeet! Does it mean that in the following utterance:

I can't find my umbrella. I think I could have left it in the office.

replacing "could have left" with "could leave" would render the sentence grammatically incorrect? What I would like to know, as a non-native speaker of English, is the difference between those two grammar patterns as far as speculating about the past is concerned.

Cheers! Very Happy
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 2993
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As you probably already know, Maciek, a modal+infinitive has uses other than expressing pastness (primarily, making "tentative suggestions or requests"), but a modal+perfect always has something to do with anteriority (due to the perfectivity). It would therefore be quite strange if somebody said I can't find my umbrella - I think I could leave it in the office to mean I can't find my umbrella - I think I could have left it in the office. The first sentence is therefore incorrect given the context (I can't find my umbrella...), because there is an obvious mismatch between not having an umbrella to hand but then making what can only sound like suggestions as to what to now do with it; as for the second, personally I'd use may/might here (then, there is also the possibility of simply saying I can't find my umbrella - I think I['ve] left it in the office - see below). Whether or not the umbrella actually is in the office is however something that the modal (well, this particular one at any rate*) isn't allowing, can't allow, us to commit to, so all we are really doing by using the modal is establishing a mere possibility, and locating that LEFT?/NOTLEFT? (via the necessarily attendant perfectivity here, cf. LEAVE?/NOTLEAVE?) certainly away from "now" or "the future".

Ultimately the only way to be really really sure that somebody went home or left an umbrella in the office is when those very verbs themselves are finite (which in fact they are in this very sentence I'm now finishing typing!).


*But even I MUST have left my umbrella in the office or My umbrella MUST be in the office still isn't quite the same thing as saying I left my umbrella in the office or My umbrella is in the office (and even with those last two sentences, there is no absolute GUARANTEE that the speaker is right, isn't mistaken! He or she could have left the umbrella at home, in the car, at the shop, at a friend's place, or a million and one other locations, for all anyone really yet knows!).


Last edited by fluffyhamster on Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:31 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Lorikeet



Joined: 18 May 2003
Posts: 1366
Location: San Francisco, California

PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maciek wrote:
Thanks Lorikeet! Does it mean that in the following utterance:

I can't find my umbrella. I think I could have left it in the office.

replacing "could have left" with "could leave" would render the sentence grammatically incorrect? What I would like to know, as a non-native speaker of English, is the difference between those two grammar patterns as far as speculating about the past is concerned.

Cheers! Very Happy


I don't believe we use "could leave" to speculate about the past. I would say your sentence would not make sense. However, "I can't find my umbrella. I could have left it in the office. I could go look for it in about ten minutes." would make sense.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 2993
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 4:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice use of the two structures in a row, one after the other, Lori! That should help make their meanings and differences even more clear! Idea Smile
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