American English

Definition of could modal verb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



     modal verb
    modal verb
    , NAmE//kʊd//
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  1. 1used as the past tense of “can” She said that she couldn't come. I couldn't hear what they were saying. Sorry, I couldn't get any more. Grammarcan / could / be able to / manageCan is used to say that somebody knows how to do something:Can you play the piano?It is also used with verbs of seeing, noticing, etc:I can hear someone calling, and with passive infinitives:The DVD can be found online.Can or be able to are used to say that something is possible or that somebody has the opportunity to do something:Can you/Are you able to come on Saturday?You use be able to to form the future and perfect tenses and the infinitive:You’ll be able to get a taxi outside the station. I haven’t been able to get much work done today. She’d love to be able to play the piano.Could is used to talk about what someone was generally able to do in the past:Our daughter could walk when she was nine months old.You use was/were able to or manage (but not could) when you are saying that something was possible on a particular occasion in the past:I was able to/managed to find some useful books in the library. I could find some useful books in the library.Manage is more formal and less frequent than be able to. In negative sentences, could not can also be used:We weren’t able to/didn’t manage to/couldn’t get there in time.Could is also used with this meaning with verbs of seeing, noticing, understanding, etc.:I could see there was something wrong.Could have is used when you are saying that it was possible for somebody to do something in the past but they did not try:I could have won the game but decided to let him win instead.
  2. 2used to ask if you can do something Could I use your phone, please? Could we stop by next week?
  3. 3used to politely ask someone to do something for you Could you babysit for us on Friday?
  4. 4used to show that something is or might be possible I could do it now, if you like. Don't worry—they could have just forgotten to call. You couldn't have left it on the bus, could you? “Have some more cake.” “Oh, I couldn't, thank you (= I'm too full).”
  5. 5used to suggest something We could write a letter to the director. You could always try his home number.
  6. 6used to show that you are annoyed that someone did not do something They could have let me know they were going to be late!
  7. 7(informal) used to emphasize how strongly you want to express your feelings I'm so fed up I could scream! Grammarmodal verbsThe modal verbs are can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, and would. Dare, need, have to, and used to also share some of the features of modal verbs.Modal verbs have only one form. They have no past or present participles and do not add -s to the 3rd person singular form:He can speak three languages. She will try and visit tomorrow.Modal verbs are followed by the infinitive of another verb without to. The exceptions are ought to and used to:You must find a job. You ought to stop smoking. I used to smoke, but I quit two years ago.Questions are formed without do/does in the present or did in the past:Can I invite Mary? Should I have invited Mary?Negative sentences are formed with not or the short form -n’t and do not use do/does or did:You shouldn't invite Mary. The error will not have affected our results.You will find more help with how to use modal verbs at the dictionary entries for each verb.
  8. Idioms
    could do with something (informal)
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    used to say that you need or would like to have something I could do with a drink! Her hair could have done with a wash.
See the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry: could