he could not fail

English grammar questions, answered by Alan

Moderator: Alan

Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Apr 26, 2013 1:06 am
Status: English Learner

he could not fail

Post by 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
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?

User avatar
EC Teacher
EC Teacher
Posts: 12886
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2003 7:56 pm
Status: English Teacher
Location: Japan

Re: he could not fail

Post by 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.