Modal Verb Could | English Form, Use and Meaning

Modal Verb Could – Form, Use and Meaning in English

In this complete tutorial for beginners’ learners are going to learn the modal verb “could”; its form, use and meanings. “Could” is a modal verb used to express possibility or past ability as well as to make suggestions and requests and you can broaden your knowledge about it with examples and forms. Also, for indirect speech (reported speech) to express ability in the past, to describe sensations in the past and finally to describe mental processes in the past.

Watch the video here before we discuss the modal verb “could” meaning.

“Could” is also commonly used in conditional sentences as the conditional form of “can.”

So again “Could” is a modal verb.  pronunciation /kʊd/

Let’s look at into this in details. First of all, we will look at

  • could in the affirmative form;

                Subject + could + base form

                I could cook                 we could cook

           you could cook                you could cook

             he could cook               they could cook

           she could cook

               it could cook

        –       could in the negative form

                Full form                          Contracted form

Subject + could not + base form      Subject + couldn’t + base form       

                I could not cook                       I couldn’t cook

           you could not cook                   you couldn’t cook

             he could not cook                     he couldn’t cook

           she could not cook                   she couldn’t cook

               it could not cook                       it couldn’t cook

            we could not cook                     we couldn’t cook

          you could not cook                     you couldn’t cook

         they could not cook                    they couldn’t cook

  • could in the question form

        could + subject + base form…?

                Could I cook…?

                Could you cook…?

                Could he cook…?

                Could she cook…?

                Could it cook…?

                Could we cook…?

                Could you cook…?

Could they cook…?

Now let’s look at the use and meaning;

1. a. We use could to express possibility in the present and future.


It’s blue. I am certain that it is blue. It’s a fact. It could be blue. I’m not certain that it is blue.
The storm will get worse. I’m certain that the storm will get worse. The storm could get worse I’m not certain that the storm will get worse.

 b. We can also use could to express possibility in the past.

-We use could have + past participle form to talk about possibility in the past.

Modal Verb “Could” Examples:

I could have stayed in the park the whole day but I chose to go to the cinema.

I could have been a lawyer if I didn’t study computer science.

I could have bought an iPhone but I decided to save my money.

c. We often use “could have + past participle in the following situations:

        – to express regret

Another Examples of Modal verb “could” forms:

I could have been a professional tennis player.

I could have been on tour.

  • To criticize someone if they did not do something

You could have cleaned the house instead of playing games.

Why did you drive the car? You could have taken a taxi!

2. Could – to make a suggestion

        We use could to make a suggestion or proposal.

More examples of Modal verb “could” forms:

a. I need to buy some books, but I don’t have enough money.

b. You could talk to your mother and ask her to give you some money.

Situation:  Your friend cannot reach Jane by cellphone.
Your suggestion:
 You could try her home number.

3. Could – to ask for permission

We use could to ask for permission or to request for something.

Could I use your laptop?

Could I borrow your car?

Could you tell me how to get to the bus station, please?

Could you help me finish my project in Science?

Could you say thanks to your mum for me?

4. Indirect speech (reported speech)

        When we use indirect speech, we use “could” after past reporting verbs “can” was used in direct speech.

Direct speech

Anne said, “We can visit her on Saturday”.

Indirect speech

Anne said that we could visit her on Saturday.

Direct: He said, “I can swim.”

 Indirect: He said that he could swim.

5. We use Could to express ability in the past.

When Helen was 5 years old, she could play the piano for three hours.

Tom could read before he started school.

She could paint when she was three years old.

6. We use could with verbs in the senses to describe sensations in the past.



                could  +    see



My neighbors were fighting I could hear it.

My mom put too much salt on the soup. I could taste it.

John drinks alcohol. I could smell it.

7. We use could with verbs of mental processes to describe mental processes in the past.



                        could  +    think



        She walked slowly. I could understand her.

        Mary broke the glass. She could think I was mad.

        I wanted to write my friend but I couldn’t remember her


So that’s the end of this lesson, hope you enjoyed it, and starts to use the modal verb “could” appropriately.

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