declarative COULD ( past ability | suggestion | possibility ) with a range of verbs

I could get a job.
Who’ll look after the girls?

Something the Lord Made (script)

listen to the intonation

In the sentence “I could get a job”, the modal verb “could” is used to express possibility. The speaker is suggesting that getting a job is a possible course of action they might take. However, the use of “could” also implies that there may be obstacles or considerations that might prevent this from happening, which is evident in the following line, “Who’ll look after the girls?”.

Also note,  in the sentence “I could get a job”, the intonation goes up at the end, which typically indicates that the speaker is making a suggestion or asking for agreement or confirmation. This is often seen in English when a statement is turned into a question. The rising intonation makes the statement sound more like a question, indicating uncertainty or seeking validation for the proposed action. So, in this context, the speaker might be suggesting the idea of getting a job and is looking for validation or feedback on this idea.


I couldn’t believe it 

when I heard you were alive.


In the sentence above, the word “couldn’t” is the past tense of “can’t,” which is a contraction of “cannot.” It’s used to express inability. In this context, “I couldn’t believe it” means that the speaker was so surprised or shocked by the news that they found it hard to accept as true. It’s a way of emphasizing the strength of the speaker’s reaction to the news.


He left the country before I could tell him.


In this sentence, “could” expresses past ability similar to “I was able to tell him” or past possibility similar to “It was possible for me to tell him“. Most importantly, the sentence means that the speaker had the intention or desire to tell the person something, but they were unable to do so because the person left before they had the chance.


A: We could try to find a tree that fits.

B: I got a better idea.

A Perfect Christmas

In this context, the modal verb “could” is used to express a suggestion or possibility. Person A suggests trying to find a tree that fits, but person B responds with a better idea, implying that there’s an alternative course of action. The use of “could” indicates that finding a tree is one option among others.


It could mean a number of things.


In this context, “could” expresses possibility. It suggests that there are several potential interpretations or explanations for the situation or statement being discussed. It leaves room for various options or meanings without specifying a definitive one.

What’s the difference between “can”, “could” and the present simple?

Let’s explore the nuances of these three phrases in relation to the last example:

  1. “It can mean a number of things”:
    • The word “can” implies that these various meanings are within the realm of possibility.
  2. “It could mean a number of things”:
    • Here, the word “could” leans toward conditional possibility. It implies that there are potential meanings, but it’s not certain which one applies. It leaves room for uncertainty.
    • Example: “The cryptic message in the ancient manuscript could mean a number of things; we need further analysis.”
  3. “It means a number of things”:
    • This statement asserts that there are indeed multiple specific meanings or interpretations. Unlike the previous two phrases, it doesn’t imply uncertainty or conditionality.

Profiling Research

There are 7 overlapping grammar points covering the use of ‘could‘ in the basic declarative form, in the English Grammar Profile (EGP) in the category of modality.  Some of them are general forms while others include usage details.  We have also included shortened examples from the EGP to understand the range of subjects and verbs better.

  • A2 point 42 affirmative form.   You|We could come|go…
  • A2 point 27: negative form.    I|he|you couldn’t|could not come|close|go…
  • A2 point 38: negative form to talk about inability.   I couldn’t work|buy…
  • A2 point 52:  with a limited range of verbs to make suggestionsWe|you could have|take|go
  • B1 point 78: affirmative form to talk about ability. The only EGP example: She could hear…
  • B1 point 79: with an increasing range of verbs to make suggestionsyou|we could become|meet… Could it be…?
  • B1 point 103: to talk about possibility. Could this really happen? Could he really be there…? …it could be (we covered this on another page)

A few of the above points really should mention “the past” in the definitions, especially points 38 and 78.  It is surprising that point 79 includes ‘be’ as an example of an increasing range of verbs.  It’s also interesting that inability is more common than ability. It is also surprising that every example only contains pronoun subjects except for “this” in point 103.  Finally, range in the EGP doesn’t always match that found in the English Vocabulary Profile (EVP).

The most common phrases in the PlayPhrase.Me corpus for “couldn’t” suggest that the main usage is related to past inability:

Here are the phrases reordered by frequency, from highest to lowest:

  1. l couldn’t (162)
  2. I couldn’t believe it (131)
  3. I’m sorry I couldn’t (91)
  4. couldn’t be better (76)
  5. oh I couldn’t (63)
  6. couldn’t even get (55)
  7. we couldn’t afford (51)
  8. I couldn’t help but notice… (44)  is often used to politely draw attention to something that has caught your attention. It’s a way of mentioning something that you’ve observed while suggesting that the observation was so significant that you couldn’t ignore it.
  9. I couldn’t do anything (44)
  10. I couldn’t have done it without you. (34) B2
  11. couldn’t get in (36)
  12. couldn’t get out of (39)
  13. couldn’t have gone (39)
  14. couldn’t get enough (33)
  15. couldn’t find anything (25)
  16. I couldn’t get away (24)
  17. couldn’t see anything (24)
  18. I couldn’t help but overhear (23)
  19. couldn’t even see (22)
  20. I couldn’t sleep last night (21)
  21. I couldn’t help noticing (21)

An iWeb search for the most common lexical bare infinitive verbs to the right of ‘could’ :

could _VVI




They could get some extra points.

female Mexico B1

2 COULD SEE 209563

I wish I could see your face.


In this sentence, “can” is backshifted to the ‘unreal’ “could”.  It indicates that the speaker wishes for the possibility to see the other person’s face, but there is some obstacle or limitation preventing it. The use of “could” conveys both the sense of impossibility or unfulfilled wish.

3 COULD USE 187358

Here are the most common phrases found in

you look like you could use a (42) = informal idiom = want

In this context, the word “could” is used to express a potential or hypothetical ability or need. When someone says, “You look like you could use a drink,” they are suggesting that you might benefit from having a drink. It implies that you appear tired, stressed, or in need of refreshment. Essentially, it’s a friendly way of saying, “You might want a drink.”

looks like you could use (34)
I could use a little help. (21)
you could use a little (51)
could use a good (45)
could use your help (44)
could use another (43)
could use one (40)
maybe you could use (31)
I thought you could use (30)
like you could use some (26)
well I could use (23)
you could use a drink (23)
I sure could use (23)
figured you could use (21)
l could use (21)
could use an (34)

4 COULD MAKE 177464

Im glad you could make it.


  • MAKE = B1 INFORMAL to manage to arrive at a place (EVP)

In this context, “could” conveys the idea that the person’s attendance was not guaranteed or expected, but they managed to come. It emphasizes their ability to attend despite any potential obstacles or uncertainties. They are expressing their pleasure at the other person’s presence, acknowledging the effort or possibility involved. It’s a warm and appreciative way of welcoming someone to an event or occasion.

5 COULD GO 130788
6 COULD HELP 125690

It could help cast some light

on other recent incidents, as well.

The Colour of Darkness

7 COULD TAKE 120280
8 COULD FIND 114013

Direct Statement (Original Words):

Kobayashi said, “You can find Fenster here.”

Reported Speech (Indirect Speech):

Kobayashi told us where we could find Fenster.

The Usual Suspects

9 COULD LEAD 70429
10 COULD CAUSE 67399
11 COULD SAY 65153

yeah you could say that (42)
I guess you could say that (36)

YeahI guess you could say that.


In this context, the word “could” is often used as a polite way of expressing agreement or acknowledgment, while still allowing room for nuance or qualification.

A more direct statement might be: “You can say that.”
Indirect Statement (Polite Agreement):  “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
When someone responds with “I guess you could say that,” they are acknowledging what you’ve said, but with a hint of reservation or a subtle twist. It implies that while your statement is partially true, there might be more to the situation or a different perspective. Essentially, it’s a diplomatic way of saying, “I see your point, but let’s consider it from another angle”

So, when you hear this phrase, it’s like a friendly nod that invites further discussion or exploration.

“could” is indeed expressing possibility. It suggests that something is feasible or within the realm of potential. When used in this context, it conveys that the statement being discussed is a valid option or a plausible perspective.

I wIsh I could say the same (32)
I guess you could say I (24)
could say somethIng (24)
wIsh I could say that (22)
you could say I’m (21)
we could say (39)
could say It (35)
I could say I (26)
could say I was (24)

12 COULD TELL 61436
13 COULD GIVE 59090
14 COULD COME 53874
15 COULD MEAN 51198
16 COULD TRY 47848
18 COULD WORK 46943
19 COULD PUT 44856
23 COULD SAVE 40691
26 COULD HEAR 37089
27 COULD PLAY 35484
28 COULD END 35357
29 COULD FEEL 35147
30 COULD ADD 34183
31 COULD LOOK 32943
33 COULD BRING 31010
34 COULD BUY 30606
36 COULD THINK 27970
37 COULD START 27166
38 COULD TURN 26184
39 COULD KEEP 25953
41 COULD RUN 25205
43 COULD ASK 23472
44 COULD WRITE 22734
45 COULD OFFER 21291
46 COULD PROVE 21232
47 COULD ARGUE 21068
48 COULD SPEND 19734
49 COULD MOVE 19198
50 COULD CALL 18710
51 COULD FACE 17932
52 COULD LEAVE 17895
53 COULD LEARN 17377
54 COULD LIVE 17349
55 COULD REACH 17302
58 COULD SET 16921
59 COULD TALK 16822
61 COULD HOLD 16676
62 COULD LOSE 16594
63 COULD COST 16548
64 COULD WIN 16497
65 COULD SEND 16175
68 COULD READ 15806
69 COULD BUILD 15719
71 COULD EAT 14962
74 COULD PAY 14273
75 COULD FIT 14203
76 COULD PICK 13796
77 COULD ALLOW 13735
80 COULD SHOW 13546
81 COULD WALK 13317
82 COULD SHARE 13211
83 COULD STAND 12986
84 COULD SELL 12721
85 COULD STOP 12453
86 COULD PULL 12121
87 COULD APPLY 12083
88 COULD OCCUR 12058
89 COULD STAY 12014
91 COULD SERVE 11643
92 COULD CARRY 11560
94 COULD OPEN 10625
95 COULD CUT 10564
96 COULD FALL 10273
98 COULD CARE 10145
99 COULD MEET 9800
100 COULD BEGIN 9656

We had AI write examples with our A2 range of lexical verbs found in the above results.:

  1. Add: She could add extra spices to enhance the flavor of the dish.
  2. Become: With consistent practice, he could become a skilled pianist.
  3. Bring: You could bring some snacks to the party.
  4. Build: They could build a treehouse in their backyard.
  5. Call: I could call my friend to discuss the upcoming event.
  6. Care: She could care for her elderly neighbor by checking in on her regularly.
  7. Cost: The repairs could cost more than expected.
  8. Cut: He could cut the cake into equal portions.
  9. Explain: You could explain the concept of quantum mechanics.
  10. Fall: The leaves could fall from the trees during autumn.
  11. Fit: These shoes could fit perfectly if you choose the right size.
  12. Happen: Unexpected events could happen at any moment.
  13. Hold: The sturdy rope could hold the weight of the heavy box.
  14. Improve: Regular exercise could improve your overall health.
  15. Include: The package could include a bonus gift.
  16. Keep: You could keep the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
  17. Lose: If you don’t study, you could lose marks in the exam.
  18. Mean: His silence could mean he’s upset.
  19. Move: She could move to a different city for a job opportunity.
  20. Offer: The restaurant could offer a special discount for loyal customers.
  21. Pick: You could pick any book from the library.
  22. Pull: He could pull the heavy cart up the hill.
  23. Receive: She could receive a scholarship for her academic achievements.
  24. Save: Proper insulation could save energy during winter.
  25. Sell: They could sell handmade crafts at the local market.
  26. Serve: The waiter could serve the meal with a smile.
  27. Set: You could set the alarm for 7 AM.
  28. Share: Friends could share their secrets with each other.
  29. Spend: She could spend her weekends exploring new hiking trails.
  30. Stand: He could stand up for his beliefs.
  31. Try: You could try the new dessert at the bakery.
  32. Turn: The weather could turn stormy later in the day.
  33. Win: With determination, they could win the championship.

B1 range:
allow, apply, argue, benefit, consider, continue, create, expect, handle, imagine, increase,

lead, produce, prove, provide, reach, reduce, result

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *