Hey there! This is TOP episode 100: Could Do vs Could Have Done

My name’s Ola and I am an English teacher. My goal is to help you start speaking English with confidence and get rid of speaking barriers. It’s time you started speaking English fearlessly! I’ve been there. I was unable to speak English for many reasons that now I call a language blockade. Today I teach people like you how to speak English with confidence. Go to my website for full transcripts and worksheets to each episode. Happy learning! 

Hello and welcome. I’m overjoyed that you’re here, I hope you’re too because now you are doing it! You are doing something for yourself, developing your skills and that’s brilliant. Investing time and energy in yourself. So, modal verbs today. This one, this topic of modal verbs has recently swiped through my classes so I’ve come to the conclusion we should discuss them here. Just a little bit of modals. Just one modal verb for today and its past form. Don’t forget to stay till the end, and practice speaking with me. Remember about the worksheet, download it at teacheroa.com/100. And now let’s dive into today’s main topic.


I know we all consider ‘could’ a past form of ‘can’, right? And that is correct. Past form of ‘can’ is most definitely ‘could’. Unfortunately, ‘could’ constitutes a separate modal verb. I want you now to open your mind and look at the word ‘could’ as a separate modal verb. What is more, ‘could’ has its own past form. What is the past form of ‘could’? Well, you guessed it. Could have done. Ok, but that’s for later. Now lets see how ‘could’ works in a sentence. What’s the meaning of this modal verb? How does it change the meaning of a main verb?

‘Could’ is useful for us when we describe the present and future. Please, stick with me, trust me, I know you in fact know it. I’ll show you some examples. We can use ‘could’ to describe possible situations now or in the future. Imagine you want to go by the sea, by the Baltic Sea for holiday this year and you need accomodation. Obvi it’s close to impossible this year. It might be too late because it’s the beginning of July! Luckily I have an uncle who lives by the sea. I suppose you could stay in his flat. Perhaps you could stay in his flat. I’m not sure 100%, I haven’t talked to him about you, but it is possible. 

Now. You might be thinking now: ‘hey, wait a minute! ‘Can’ totally fits the sentence!’ Well, let’s see: You can stay in his flat. You could stay in his flat. This thing is that with ‘can’ I am sure you can stay with him. You can stay in his flat. I know it. It’s realistic. However, with ‘could’ I don’t know for sure, I suppose you could, but I haven’t talked to my uncle, I don’t know whether he likes this idea or not. I suppose it’s possible, perhaps it’s possible, I’m not sure – all this is expressed by ‘You could stay in his flat’. 

Next. ‘could’ carries one more meaning. Imagine you are by the sea, you’re on the beach, lookin at the sea. Breath in, and breath out. Fresh air, unlike the air in Kraków. Ok, so you are standing there now, close your eyes and really picture this’. And you say to yourself: I could stay here forever. Naturally, you can’t stay on the beach forever, it’s just a figure of speech. Can in this context doesn’t work because it is something unrealistic. I could eat a horse. I could sleep all week. Unrealistic things. You really don’t mean any of this. 


Let’s move on to ‘could have done’. ‘Could have done’ is the past form of ‘could’. ‘Could have done’ is the past form of ‘could’. You’ve just come back from holiday. Where were you? By the Polish sea? Really? Where did you stay? In a hostel! You know my uncle leves by the sea! You could have stayed with him! You could have stayed in his flat. Could plus have plus the third form of the verb. Could have done. But you didn’t. You didn’t stay in his flat, you stayed in a hostel. I didn;’t happen, it’s important. It was possible. There was a certain possibility in the past. something was possible in the past, or you had the ability to do something in the past, but that you didn’t do it. Some more examples: 

I could have studied more. 

I could have bought that dress, it was  a bargain.

You could have told me!

You could have asked me!

About pronunciation. Native speakers have a tendency to pronunce words imprecisely. Often words get slurped together especially in everyday speech. Contraction of could have sounds like this: could’ve. I could‘ve done, he could’ve been, she could’ve seen. Now, that sounds like could of. Could of. And that is a mistake. It’s a common misspelling of the verb phrase could have which stems from misunderstanding of spoken English.  

Another thing is that ‘could have done’ can be used when we want to make a guess about something that happened in the past. We don’t know if what we’re saying is true or not true. We’re just talking about our opinion of what may have happened. Why is he late? He could have caught the wrong tram. He could have forgotten. No, he couldn’t have forgotten about me. 

See? You cannot use ‘could’ plus the infinitive to talk about the past. I could take a bus. I could have taken a bus. The difference is humongous. I could take a bus for example, and that’s how I could get to the station. However when speaking about the past, let’s use this: I could have taken a bus. I didn’t. What a pity, it could have been a better option, more convenient and cheaper than a car.

‘couldn’t have done’. Let’s take a look at one more meaning here. Listen to this sentence: He couldn’t have done more for them. It wasn’t possible for him to do anything more, he did his best, he did all he could. He couldn’t have done anything more. Even though he wanted to do more, to help more, but it was not possible. 

Time to practice. Say the sentences out loud. Exercise you fac muscles, mouth and tongue, get used to your own voice which sound so odd in a foreign language,. Let’s begin. Listen and repeat:

You could stay in his flat. 

We could go by the sea.

We could stop arguing.

We could ask for directions.

I could eat a horse.

I could sleep for a week.

I could stay here forever. 

You could have stayed in his flat.

I could have studied more. 

I could have bought that dress, it was  a bargain.

You could have told me!

You could have asked me!

He could have caught the wrong tram. 

He could have forgotten.

He couldn’t have done more for them.

Bravo! Thank you so much for doing this with me. Go to your inbox and grab the worksheet, that’s your homework. If you’re not a member download the worksheet at teacherola.com/100 and become one. It’s free. Every Wednesday you’ll get a brand new worksheet along with the episode and a love letter from me. 

Thank you for listening, and please share this episode with just one person. Your friend, your family member. Let’s spread the message.No matter what, you can start speaking English fearlessly. There’s zero doubt about it.

I’ll see you here next Wednesday. We’re going to talk about stress. Happy learning. Take care! Stay fearless and say it out loud. Bye!