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he could not fail

English grammar help. Grammar questions from ESL learners

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he could not fail

Postby masonsouth » Mon Apr 29, 2013 7:24 am

A sentence: One may muse at length on what went on in Constantine's heart and mind with regard to the Christmas faith, but as an emperor he could not fail to appreciate the organizational and economic effectiveness of this particular church.

As an English major, I know when we refer to something impossible, COULD NOT DO for the present, COULD NOT HAVE DONE for the past, and I have read

http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries ... ionary/can
and
http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries ... nary/could

three times each, but the above sentence is unintelligible: COULD NOT FAIL should mean IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO FAIL, but definitely now it's not; could you tell me what this COULD means?
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Re: he could not fail

Postby Alan » Wed May 01, 2013 5:51 am

'Cannot fail to apprteciate' is normal/acceptable for the present. 'Could' here therefore has a simple past meaning.
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