One Point English Lesson: Using Could

Michael Uncategorized 5 Comments

I couldn’t swim well when I was a kid...

I couldn’t swim well when I was a kid…

Last week we had a look at how to use can. Today, let’s look at could. This word can be confusing because it has a few different uses and meanings, so let’s see how it’s used.

Could is used as the past of can in a negative sentence meaning ability.

  • I couldn’t swim well when I was a kid.
  • Jack couldn’t find his wallet this morning.
  • Because of the heavy traffic, we couldn’t catch the flight.

However….when we talk about ability in a positive sentence in the past, we prefer to use was able to.

  • I was able to find the jacket I was looking for.
  • We were able to get on the next flight.
  • Finally, Jack was able to find his wallet…it was in the washing machine!

Could is used to indicate possibility.

  • They could be right. This dirt road looks a little unsafe.
  • I would go if I could afford it.
  • If Jack wasn’t busy he could help us with this project.

Could is used in making polite requests:

  • Could I use the phone?
  • Could we have some more coffee?

Could is used to indicate annoyance because of something that has not been done. The if condition is often unstated.

  • They could have told me that they were coming late!
  • We cold have gotten a free dessert!

Could is used to indicate a strong inclination to do something

  • He irritates me so much that I could scream.
  • This shelf was not installed properly. I think it could easily fall.

Do you know any other ways to use could? If so, leave me a message here.

Enter email address:


If you know anyone who has trouble with this English language point, why not help them out! Just share this lesson with them.

Thanks for studying today!