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Grammar for Dummies: Could

 

Why is this word so confusing in French ?

The reason is quite simple, the French mainly have two ways of expressing it while in Engish there is only one way (= could).

 

  • Sometimes when using « could » we refer to an action in the past.

 

Ex : When I was young, I could

Here we refer to something we could do, were able to do, were allowed to do

 

  • Sometimes we refer to an action in the futur.

Ex : Tomorrow I could

Here refer to what we consider could happen (futur)

 

To express « Could » in the past tense, French people use the « imparfait » version of the verb « pouvoir ». While to express « could » in the futur tense, they use the « conditionnel » version of the verb « pouvoir ».

 

Ils/elles pouvaient

COULD (passé)
Imparfait
COULD (notion de futur)
Conditionnel
Je pouvais + (any infinitive verb)

courir 10 km

parler espagnol

faire la cuisine

comprendre le chinois

Je pourrais

Tu pourrais

Il/elle pourrait

Nous pourrions

Vous pourriez

Ils/elles pourraient

+ (any infinitive verb)

courir

parler espagnol

faire la cuisine

comprendre le chinois

Tu pouvais
Il/elle/on pouvait
Nous pouvions
Vous pouviez
Examples

Quand j’étais petit je

pouvais sortir le soir

jusqu’à 18h.

Quand on était en

vacances, on pouvait

se coucher

après 23h.  

(an authorisation)

Quand il était jeune,

il pouvait jouer

de la guitare.

(à capacity of doing

something)

 

 

Exemples

 

On pourrait aller au cinéma ce week end.

(à a suggestion)

 

Je pourrais acheter un grand chalet si j’étais millionnaire.

(à world of fantasy)

 

The structure is EXACTLY the same as with « CAN » so :

  • we need to verbs
  • the first verb gets changed
  • the first verb gets the negation (if needed)
  • the second verb is not changed (infinitive)

 

à In a negative sentence :

 

COULD (passé)

Imparfait

COULD (futur)

Conditionnel

Je ne pouvais pas jouer dehors

On ne pouvait pas regarder la télé

 

Je ne pourrais pas acheter de chalet

Elle ne pourrait plus dormir

 


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All courses available either in person or via Skype or Telephone.  Please contact us for more information

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