Alternative formsEdit


From Middle English coude, couthe, cuthe, from Old English cūþe, past indicative and past subjunctive form of cunnan ‎(to be able) (compare related cūþ > English couth). The addition of the silent 'l' was likely a misappropriation attempting to normalize with modal verbs will/would and shall/should. However, while the letter l was historically pronounced in the latter two, could never had an l sound in it.





  1. simple past tense of can
    Before I was blind, I could see very well.
  2. conditional of can
    1. Used as a past subjunctive (contrary to fact).
      I think he could do it if he really wanted to.
      I wish I could fly!
    2. Used to politely ask for permission to do something.
      Could I borrow your coat?
    3. Used to politely ask for someone else to do something.
      Could you proofread this email?
    4. Used to show the possibility that something might happen.
      • 2013 June 29, “Travels and travails”, in The Economist, volume 407, number 8842, page 55:
        Even without hovering drones, a lurking assassin, a thumping score and a denouement, the real-life story of Edward Snowden, a rogue spy on the run, could be straight out of the cinema. But, as with Hollywood, the subplots and exotic locations may distract from the real message: America’s discomfort and its foes’ glee.
      We could rearrange the time if you like.
    5. Used to suggest something.
      You could try adding more salt to the soup.

Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit

See alsoEdit


Most common English words before 1923: what · do · has · #62: could · our · than · some