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I am so confused with the way native speakers interpret the usage of could in these sentences! Any prompting explanations?

Here it is the issue. Let's compare these two sentences

1) I could ride a horse when I was young.
Could here means an ability to do something in the past.

2) I could go to the USA yesterday. (I think it is pretty much the same as the first one)

ATTENTION!!! here it is a confusion.

3) I could go to the USA yesterday but I didn't want to.

They say it should be - I could have gone to the USA yesterday but I didn't want to. Because in their opinion COULD in the 3 sentence refers to the present. So, why doesn't it refer to the present in the 1 sentence. Why not (I could have ridden a whose when I was young.)

=Summary
I could ride a horse when I was young. - refers to the past (COULD)
I could have gone to the USA yesterday but I didn't want to. - refers to the past (COULD HAVE) why can't we still stick with COULD

It seems like they admit that in the first sentence COULD refers to the past but somehow in the second sentence they see that it refers to the present????Emotion: headbang

The logic I fail to understand is below

I could ride a horse when I was young. = (I could have ridden a whose when I was young.) doesn't work. Why?

I could have gone to the USA yesterday but I didn't want to. = (I could go to the USA yesterday but I didn't want to.) doesn't work. WHy?

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Comments  
1) I could ride a horse when I was young. (ok--past ability)

2) I could go to the USA yesterday. (ok but needs some further context; perhaps you've lost your passport today and can't go to the US now but you could go yesterday)

3) I could have gone to the US yesterday but I didn't want to. (This is an implied conditonal sentence and has nothing to do with past ability. The if-clause "if I had wanted to" is omitted.

3a) I could have gone to the US yesterday if I had wanted to (but I didn't want to).

In conclusion, the third is just a conditional sentence so it's different from the other two sentences.
Could you tell me why

I could go to the USA yesterday, but I didn't want to.

doesn't work?
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As I said in my previous post that's a conditional (III) sentence. Conditinal III sentences are used for unrealized past events, that is, when you know that the condition in the if-clause is false.

I could have gone to the US if I had wanted to. (but I didn't want to--unrealized past event)

More examples

I could/would have visited her if I had had the time. (but I didn't have the time; unrealized past event)

I could/would have bought that book if I had had enough money (but I didn't have enough money--unrealzed past event.
Ok so if we say it in the indicative mood then it can refer to the past. As it is here

1) I could go to the USA when I was young but I didn't want to. (I hope you don't see it as a conditional sentence)

But if could is used in a conditional sentence then it always refers to the present or future as it is here

2) I could go to the USA, but I didn't want to. (it equals - I would go there if I were not against it)

Does it make sense?
TicceOk so if we say it in the indicative mood then it can refer to the past. As it is here1) I could go to the USA when I was young but I didn't want to. (I hope you don't see it as a conditional sentence--fine)

But if could is used in a conditional sentence then it always refers to the present or future as it is here Not quite, in the case of conditional III sentences it refers primarily to the past (but some mixed conditional sentences can refer to the past and present at the same time) .

2) I could go to the USA, but I didn't want to. (it equals - I would go there if I were not against it)Does it make sense? Yes, something like that even though being against something isn't the same as not wanting that something
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IvanhrBut if could is used in a conditional sentence then it always refers to the present or future as it is here Not quite, in the case of conditional III sentences it refers primarily to the past (but some mixed conditional sentences can refer to the past and present at the same time) .
In the third sentence we don't have "could" but we have "could have".
Still, "could have gone" refers to the past event of not going to the US. (this sentence is all about the past and not the present).

However, something like the following is possible

If I had studied harder at college, then I would be an engineer now. (the past perfect "had studied" refers to the past but the modal "would be" refers to the present.
With could have gone everything seems clear to me for now. It was could which is giving me a hard time.
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