Could is an auxiliary verb, a modal auxiliary verb. We use could to:
- talk about past possibility or ability
- make requests
Structure of could
The main verb is always the bare infinitive (infinitive without to).
- Could is invariable. There is only one form: could
- The main verb is always the bare infinitive.
Use of could
could for past possibility or ability
We use could to talk about what was possible in the past, what we were able or free to do:
- I could swim when I was 5 years old.
- My grandmother could speak seven languages.
- When we arrived home, we could not open the door. (...couldn't open the door.)
- Could you understand what he was saying?
We use I (positive) and couldn't (negative) for general ability in the past. But when we talk about one special occasion in the past, we use be able to (positive) and couldn't (negative). Look at these examples:
|+||My grandmother could speak Spanish.||A man fell into the river yesterday. The police were able to save him.|
|-||My grandmother couldn't speak Spanish.||A man fell into the river yesterday. The police couldn't save him.|
could for requests
We often use could in a question to ask somebody to do something. The use of could in this way is fairly polite (formal):
- Could you tell me where the bank is, please?
- Could you send me a catalogue, please?