RE: Possibility in the past? page 2

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Anonymous:
Okay. I understand that.

But, these kind of sentences make me confused: Dorian couldn't read when he was four.

Dorian couldn't have read when he was four.

We can use 'couldn't have' to talk about something we were not capable of doing.
Dusan StojilkovicDorian couldn't read when he was four. ... Dorian couldn't have read when he was four.
Here is my interpretation of these two sentences.

1. Dorian was not able to read when he was four. You could put a book in front of him and ask him to read, but you would not get any results. Dorian would just sit there, book in hand, with no idea of what to do.

2. It is completely impossible that Dorian was reading when he was four. I don't believe your claim that he could do that. In my opinion it would not have been possible for him to do that.

2. (alternate) With an implicit "if" clause. Dorian would not have been able to read when he was four [even if you had paid him / even if you had begged him] to read.

1 is a statement about Dorian's inability to read.
2 is a statement of the speaker's disbelief about some previous claim about Dorian's ability to read.
2 (alternate) frames "couldn't have" within the context of a 'third conditional'.
Dusan StojilkovicWe can use 'couldn't have' to talk about something we were not capable of doing.
Not exactly, in my opinion. 'we couldn't have' is closer to 'we would not have been able to', not so close to 'we were not able/capable of'. What is the source of this statement? Was that in your grammar book? What examples did the book give for "couldn't have" as "were not capable"?

I couldn't have done such a terrible thing. ~ I would not have been capable of doing such a terrible thing.

Contrast with:

I couldn't do that. ~ I was not able to do that. (When I was young, I couldn't speak French.)
I couldn't do that. ~ I failed to do that. (I couldn't open the door. It was locked.)

couldn't have often implies a logical impossibility in the past. It is frequently the opposite of must have.

- The keys are missing.
- Really? Tom must have taken them.
- No. He's still sleeping. He couldn't have taken them.

CJ
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Anonymous:
Dusan StojilkovicWe can use 'couldn't have' to talk about something we were not capable of doing.Not exactly, in my opinion. 'we couldn't have' is closer to 'we would not have been able to', not so close to 'we were not able/capable of'. What is the source of this statement? Was that in your grammar book? What examples did the book give for "couldn't have" as "were not capable"?

http://www.englishgrammarsecrets.com/couldhave/menu.php

This is the source.

couldn't have often implies a logical impossibility in the past. It is frequently the opposite of must have.

Hmm.. This is tricky. Have a look at this example: You couldn't have said it better.

There's no any context when I can see if it's logical or not.

Can you explain this one?
Dusan StojilkovicThis is the source.
OK. I looked at that site. The authors of that site are speaking in approximations, maybe so that they can make English seem easier than it really is, or maybe so they can avoid lengthy explanations of all the complications. They write:

We can use 'couldn't have' to talk about something we were not capable of doing.

None of the examples can be accurately paraphrased as advised in that statement above. It's preferable, I think, to say:

We can use 'couldn't have to talk about something that would not have been possible for us to do (or to have done), that is, about something that we would not have been able to do.

"It would not have been possible for me to do it" is very close to "I would not have been able to do it", so you can sometimes phrase it either way, focusing on the logical impossibility or on the physical inability.

I couldn't have managed without you. = It would not have been possible for me [to manage / to have managed] without you. ~ I would not have been able to manage without you.

I couldn't have got the job. = It would not have been possible for me to get the job. ~ I would not have been able to get the job.
He was always going to appoint his nephew.

I couldn't have enjoyed myself more. = It would not have been possible for me [to enjoy / to have enjoyed] myself more. ~ I would not have been able to enjoy myself more. = I enjoyed myself as much as I possibly could.

Thank you for a lovely day.

And, adding yours,

You couldn't have said it better. = It would not have been possible for you [to say / to have said] it better. ~ You would not have been able to say it better. = You said it as well as you possibly could.

CJ
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Anonymous:
So, let's compare this:

I couldn't open the window. ------ I wasn't able to open that window. I tried, but it was locked.

I couldn't have open the window. ------ It was locked.--- I find this as logical impossibility. I tried everything and I just couldn't.

And yet, in my mind both are correct.

Is that even possible?
Dusan StojilkovicSo, let's compare this

I couldn't open the window. ------ I wasn't able to open that window. I tried, but it was locked.
I couldn't have opened the window. ------ It was locked.--- I find this as logical impossibility.
I tried everything and I just couldn't.
Yes, both sentences are grammatically correct, but the second one doesn't mean exactly what you think it means. In the second case you need not even have tried. The second sentence is claiming that even if you had tried, you would not have been able to open the window. The trying in the second case can be only an imagined trying. When you explain it as a logical impossibility, you are correct. But when you add to your explanation, "I tried everything and I just couldn't", you are not on the right track.

There are four patterns worth discussing.

Present time; real world:
Even if I try to open the window, I [am not able to / can't] open it.
I can't open the window no matter how much I try. (I keep trying again and again.)
I can't open the window. ~ I fail to open to window (when I try).

Present time; imagined world:
Even if I tried to open the window, I would not be able to open it.
I don't even have to try. I can see that it's stuck. I already know that it's impossible.
(This pattern imagines a present attempt to open the window, and gives an opinion about what would happen.)

Past time; real world:
Even if I tried to open the window, I [was not able to / couldn't] open it.
I couldn't open the window no matter how much I tried. (I kept trying again and again.)
I could not open the window. ~ I failed to open the window (when I tried).

Past time; imagined world:
Even if I had tried to open the window, I [wouldn't have been able to open / couldn't have opened] it.
I didn't even have to try. I could see that it was stuck. I already knew that it was impossible.
(This pattern imagines a past attempt to open the window, and gives an opinion about what would have happened.)

CJ
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Anonymous:
Today I wrote down all your posts and brought it with me at school.
So since then I've been trying to solve all my concerns about this topic.
Anyway:
CalifJimYes, both sentences are grammatically correct, but the second one doesn't mean exactly what you think it means. In the second case you need not even have tried. The second sentence is claiming that even if you had tried, you would not have been able to open the window. The trying in the second case can be only an imagined trying. When you explain it as a logical impossibility, you are correct.
So,

I couldn't open the window. - I tried but I simply couldn't. And that's the end of the story. I failed.

I couldn't have open the window. - I saw that the window was stucked and it was impossible. That's logical reason.

And here's another question about this. You said that I didn't even have to tried, because I'd fail either way. But what if I tried? I think then I should use just couldn't? I know it was impossible to open.
And is that some rule for physical contact?
I mean:

I couldn't have got the job. = It would not have been possible for me to get the job. ~ I would not have been able to get the job.
He was always going to appoint his nephew.


Is that because he didn't get the chance to show his skills? There was no physical trying from his side.\
But if he showed his skills to the boss and if boss was unsatisfied after his perfomance, I think then he should use just COULDN'T

Am I right about this?

Firstly I just want to see your answer for this, because I have some other questions.

I couldn't open the window. - I tried but I simply couldn't. And that's the end of the story. I failed.

I couldn't have opened the window. - I saw that the window was stucked stuck and it was impossible. That's a logical reason. (stick, stuck, stuck; irregular verb)
________

OK. So far, so good. Emotion: smile
Dusan StojilkovicI couldn't have got the job. = It would not have been possible for me to get the job. ~ I would not have been able to get the job.
He was always going to appoint his nephew.


Is that because he didn't get the chance to show his skills? There was no physical trying from his side.\
But if he showed his skills to the boss and if boss was unsatisfied after his perfomance, I think then he should use just COULDN'T

Am I right about this?
Is that because he didn't get the chance to show his skills? No. It was because he knew that the boss was going to give the job to his nephew. Even if he had showed his skills, and even if the boss liked his skills, he would not have got the job.

But if he showed his skills to the boss and if boss was unsatisfied after his performance, I think then he should use just COULDN'T. Yes. You are on the right track here. If this is what happened, we say He couldn't convince the boss that he was the right man for the job. / He couldn't prove himself on the job. / He couldn't keep his job once the boss saw how poorly he was doing. In these cases we are talking about something that actually failed to happen in the past.

Similarly,

We couldn't find the keys we had lost. (We looked, but we couldn't find them.)
Marge couldn't get the computer to start. (She turned the switch on. She checked that it was plugged in. But the computer did not start. She failed to make it start.)

But also,

They asked Lucy to touch the snake, but she couldn't do it. (Something inside of her mind, like fear, prevented her from doing it.)
The road was washed out from the rain, so we couldn't go that way. We had to use a different road. (Something prevented us from going on that road.)

CJ
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Anonymous:
And one more question about this sentence:

I couldn't have opened the window. - Yes I saw it was impossible for me to open so I didn't even try. It would have been pointless.

I couldn't got the job.

I've noticed that in all those sentences the speakers didn't have any physical connection or any attempt. They already knew that they are going to fail.
So, my question is: Is there any rule about physical connection?
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