How to use English modal verb COULD | DailyStep English

How to use English modal verb COULD

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This is Jane Lawson's Audio Blog #113 at DailyStep English

Jane Lawson English teacher Hello, I'm Jane at DailyStep English and welcome to my Audio Blog!

This blog will teach you all the meanings of COULD in the downloadable audio word study. Make sure you know them all so you avoid misunderstandings! There are also some free audio descriptions of all the topics in next week's DailyStep audio lessons. If you are new to DailyStep English, please register for a free trial of 5 UK/USA audio lessons and to be on my mailing list.

This is Audio Word Study #113 from Jane Lawson at


How to use the modal verb COULD


Note: A modal verb is a word that gives special meaning to a verb. Examples of other modal verbs are MUST, MAY AND MIGHT. 

Meaning 1: COULD is the past of CAN. We use it to talk about what someone was able to do or was allowed to do.
Examples: 1. When I was at school, I could swim much better than I can swim now.
2. The exam was so difficult that I couldn't finish it. (note: this means ‘I was not able to finish it.’)
3. His mother said he could play football after he had finished his homework. (note: this means that he was allowed to play football.)

Meaning 2: COULD is used as a more polite form of CAN when asking for permission
Examples: 1. Excuse me, could I just interrupt for a moment, please? (note: this is much more polite than 'Can I interrupt, please'.)
2. Hello, could I speak to Fiona Price, please? (note: this is what we say on the telephone.)

Meaning 3: COULD is used as a more polite form of CAN when making a request.
Examples: 1. Could you please lend me your car for the weekend?
2. Do you think you could possibly lend me fifty pounds (£50) until Monday? (note: this is a more indirect question, and is therefore more polite.)
3. Could you close the window, please?

Meaning 4: We use COULD to express possibility, especially slight or uncertain possibility.
Examples: 1. She could leave at any time. (note: this means ‘It is possible that she will leave at any time’.)
2. This new drug could be an important step in the fight against heart disease.
3. Be careful with that boiling water – you could scald yourself!

Meaning 5: We sometimes use COULD for making a suggestion 
Examples: 1. We could go for a picnic tomorrow, if you like.
2. You could always ask Tom to help you – I don’t think he would mind. (note: this means 'one option is to ask Tom to help you'.)

Meaning 6: We use COULD to say, especially angrily, what we think someone else should do. In this case, COULD is emphasised strongly.
Examples: 1. Well, you could try to be a little bit more polite to my mother!
2. I invited you ages ago – you could have let me know sooner that you weren’t coming!

Now, try to write your own sentences using COULD, making sure that they are true to your own life as this will help you to remember them better!

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Next week in the DailyStep subscriber audio lessons:

Level 5: Advanced Level
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Level 4: High Intermediate Level
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How was your holiday? Pauline has just returned from a holiday in the mountains of Italy, and she describes to Ian the beautiful place that she stayed in and how she spent her time. Ian then tells her about his very different kind of holiday, and how a lucky coincidence meant that he had a great surprise! With these 5 lessons, you will learn how to talk about holidays, plenty of idioms and phrasal verbs and also the correct intonation for reacting in conversation.

Level 3: Intermediate Level
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Level 2: Elementary Level
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Shopping in English.  Robert can’t find a shop that sells what he needs. These 5 lessons will teach you how to ask where to buy things, ask the right questions in a shop and make sure you have the right product. These are great lessons for travellers, and also if you work in a shop or in a hotel.

Level 1: Beginner Level
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