+0
Hi, I was looking at a thread named "could have done and were able" and in it, Velimir said in part this in one of his posts:

I tend to use "could" instead of "was able" in similar situations but in Michael Swan's "Practical English Usage" it's clearly stated : We do not normally use "could" to say that somebody managed to do something on one ocassion, instead we use "was able" , "managed" , "succeeded" etc." . In the next passage Swan gives exceptions to this and gives list of verbs which can be used with "could" to denote ability to do something. Those verbs are : "see" , "taste" ,"understand", "feel" , "hear" "smell" and "guess" . He also says that "..we use "could" for "general ability" to say that somebody could do something at any time,whenever he/she wanted. In negative clauses to denote inability i.e "couldn't"+ verb, it can be freely used in this sense.

Does that mean we could use the modal "could" to denote general ability in the present for the likes of verbs such as "see", "taste", "understand", "feel", etc.? See, what gets me is that all along, I thought the modal "could" conldn't denote presen-time, general ability.

Are these possible?
I have to say/report that we could see now. We have recovered our sight.
I have to say/report that we could smell now. We have recovered our sense of smell.
+0
AnonymousDoes that mean we could use the modal "could" to denote general ability in the present for the likes of verbs such as "see", "taste", "understand", "feel", etc.?
No. You need "can" for a present general ability.
AnonymousAre these possible?
I have to say/report that we could see now. We have recovered our sight.
I have to say/report that we could smell now. We have recovered our sense of smell.
No, they're not possible.
... that we can see/smell now.
CJ
Comments  
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Thank you, If I see sentences with modal 'could' with some 'mental and physical' words like 'see', 'smell', and 'understand', should I place the time line back in the past when interpreting them as denoting ability (has to be past ability almost all the time)?

We could see how beautiful the flowers were.
We could understand the choices he had (back then).
He could smell the sweet aroma of freshly brewed coffee that morning.

How about general 'action' words like 'run', 'hop', and 'ride'? No present-time ability for them too? Almost always denoting what happened in the past when using to denote ability?

We could run like a dog when we were little.
We could hop like a rabbit when we were in teens.
AnonymousWe could see how beautiful the flowers were.
We could understand the choices he had (back then).
He could smell the sweet aroma of freshly brewed coffee that morning.
Yes. All past abilities, although with this set of verbs, could adds very little to the meaning. There are enough cues to the past within the context to prevent could from being interpreted in present time.
We could see how beautiful the flowers were is not much different, practically speaking, from We saw how beautiful the flowers were.
AnonymousWe could run like a dog when we were little.
We could hop like a rabbit when we were in our teens.
Again, all past abilities. could retains its full meaning here. We could run is different from We ran. The 'adverbial support' keeps the action in the past.
____
could in present time is a close equivalent to would be able to. It is then a present speculation, not a past ability. More formally, might can substitute for could in these.
-- What could we do to pass the time while we are waiting?
-- We could see how beautiful the flowers are in the garden nearby.
-- How could we run to show the children how we used to run when we were little?
-- We could run like a dog. That would show them how we used to run.
CJ