Learn English Grammar: How to use the auxiliary verb 'COULD'


In this grammar lesson, you will learn about the many uses of the auxiliary verb “could” in English. I will teach you how to use it correctly when speaking about the past, the conditional, and even when making polite requests for the future. For example, do we say “Can you tell me” or “Could you tell me”? What about “I could have been” or “I could of been”? I will give you many examples of how it can be used in different contexts. Even native English speakers use “could” incorrectly, so watch this video to avoid making common mistakes! Next, take the quiz: https://www.engvid.com/auxiliary-verb-could/


Watch my lesson how to use the auxiliary verb ‘WOULD’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Imfmh66zlX8


Hello. I’m Gill at www.engvid.com, and today we have a lesson on an auxiliary modal verb: “could”, the use of “could”. So, there are two ways… Well, we have five ways that it’s used here, but “could” comes either from as the past tense of the verb “can”, which is also an auxiliary modal verb, “can”: “could” in the past; or it’s used as an auxiliary verb with other verbs combined. So, sorry that sounds very complicated, but I hope it comes clearer with the sentences to illustrate how it can be used. Okay.

So, first of all, just to show the simple past tense of “can”, if I can do something: I can do something today, yesterday I could do it as well; or I couldn’t do it yesterday, you could use the negative as well. So, first sentence, then: “At one time”-in the past-“I could run a mile and not get out of breath”. So, to get out of breath is when you’ve been running a lot, and then you can’t… You’re breathing very quickly and you have to wait for your body to get back to normal. And if you’re running, also, it might be painful and you have to stop, so that’s getting out of breath. Okay? So: “At one time in the past I could run a mile.” I can’t say now in the present I can run a mile, because I can’t, okay? But in the past, at one time, I could run a mile and not get out of breath. Okay, so that’s just the past tense of “can”.

But then the other four examples are where it’s used as an auxiliary modal verb with different ways of using it. So we have four different ways of using it, here. First of all, number two is a polite request. So, instead of: “Can I…?” you say: “Could I…? Could I borrow your pen, please, just for a moment? Could I borrow your pen, please?” If you say: “Can I…?” it’s okay, but it’s not quite as polite. So if you really want the person to say: “Yes, of course”, if you’re polite they are more likely to let you borrow their pen. So: “Could. Could I please?” So we’ve got: “Could I” and we also have “please” at the end. Or you could put: “Please” near the beginning: “Please. Please could I…? Could I please…?” Any order. “Can I borrow your pen, please, just for a moment?” So that’s a polite request. Okay.

And then the third sentence is when you’re saying that something is possible. You’re telling somebody something is possible if… If they do something, so this is called a conditional. Okay. And that… We have lots of video lessons on conditionals, so do have a look for those. So, here is an example: “You could get good marks in the exam if you study every day.” So, the conditional: “Could” often uses “if”, because you have a choice. Are you going to study every day and get good marks in the exam, or are you going to maybe study once or twice a week and then you get to the exam and you don’t do so well, or what’s your choice? So this is your teacher, your tutor might tell you: “You could get good marks in the exam if you study every day”, if you work hard regularly every day. So that’s a possibility, a conditional. Right.

So, then number four, this is a polite way of maybe giving a criticism or suggesting something isn’t right, there’s a mistake, or something may have gone wrong. If you say: “I could be wrong, but… I could be wrong, but I think there’s a mistake (an error) in these figures.” So if you’re looking at some accounts, and the figures in columns and they’re supposed to add up accurately, and you look at it and you think: “This doesn’t look right.” If you’re an accounting genius, you can maybe see immediately something isn’t right; the figures don’t balance or something. So… But you don’t want to say: “Oh, that’s wrong. That’s not right.” You don’t want to be so direct, so you’re very careful that when you begin your sentence: “I could be wrong, but I think…” So you’re not saying: “I know. I can see there’s a mistake there.” You wouldn’t say that. “I think there’s a mistake (an error) in these figures”, so it’s a polite way of suggesting there could be a mistake. “I could be wrong, but…” Okay. Useful phrase.

And then, finally, in this first half of the lesson, when somebody is saying they could have done something or they could have been something, a profession: “I could have been a ballet dancer, but something happened to stop me.” […]


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Comments 50

  1. If you haven't already, watch my other lesson, on how to use the auxiliary verb 'WOULD': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Imfmh66zlX8

  2. Why the fuck am I watching this? I'm British, yet youtube continues to suggests these and I continue to watch them. Truly a vicious cycle.

  3. The best English teacher ever ………..

  4. I love your way of teaching.. A very good accent, pronunciation and wonderfully explained.. I am delighted.. I found you a couple of days ago and I have to admit that your traditional method works, besides you are natural and you also show yourself as a good-humored woman.. Thanks for everything, greetings from Spain..

  5. PA SHEREEF says:

    Congratulations 🎊

  6. Susi Rubio says:

    Thank you Gill your lessons are really helpful, I am brushing my English up and with your support is getting easier.

  7. Dear Gill, you are great👏

  8. Gill… I found you yesterday… and I am to confess that your English accent is fantastic…
    And your explanations are very clear and useful. With love from Brazil

  9. Ny Ny says:

    Hello Teacher!

  10. Lena says:

    I wish I could have Gill as my teacher in school @__@

  11. selai morin says:

    Me understand more from this teacher. Love how she explain.

  12. Imsook Yoo says:

    Thankyou very much for lessen,

  13. Mrs Gill thanks for your class,now i know how to use (Could) in a sentence… So i see now i going up slowly to speak fluent English through you.

  14. I could never do that, does it refer to past or present or future?

  15. Teklu G says:

    Useful lesson .thank you.

  16. neezo says:

    ive made a mistake in last question. i forgot" been"

  17. Thanks for your efforts and hard work for us all. I really appreciate the way you explain things so naturally making someone from India like me understand things easy way. Thanks.🙏🙏

  18. easy english says:

    Hlo mam I am from India and I like your video

  19. Petko Ivanov says:

    Hi Jill 👋🏻you are Ace😎

  20. Hakan Tuylu says:

    perfect , thank you

  21. Truth is all says:

    doesn't example 3 violates the rule of if clause. as if we use could in main clause , the if clause takes past form of verb.

    if you studied?

  22. Pintu Kumar says:

    I am from India. I understand very well

  23. bero Dicko says:

    I could say thank you

  24. lydia amin says:

    Thank You very much 'Mother" for teaching us wonderful topics .

  25. Thank you sweet lady. Very helpful!

  26. Dear Gill, could you please write the hole sentence down in the "test" part instead of the three dots? It would be even more helpful. We are not natives. Love your videos!

  27. Thanks a lot for your lesson. It was useful. I have one question. Can i use, have with can?

  28. شكرا لكى يا اروع مس

  29. I could learn english through your videos

  30. I believe I am going to use your videos…. Hopefully my students will enjoy! I did!

  31. Thank you mother god bless you.from Tanzania.

  32. very helpful thank you 🙏🏼

  33. You are a great teacher. Thank you so much. I could have been somebody rather than no body. I do not use tthis pattern any more. I learnt to live now.

  34. Md Ayyan says:

    What is the difference between modal verb or auxiliary verb plzz mam tell me

  35. Md Ayyan says:

    Pleases tell me what is the difference among can,could and could have

  36. Nargis Adam says:

    Thank you very much 🙏 ❤️🌹👍

  37. beautiful accent ma'am

  38. I don't have idea which positive adjective I could to use for that great woman, but I tell you, wonderful job. You're amazing. Thanks a lot. My English is not good.

  39. You Tube says:

    Is there differ between I could be wrong and I can be wrong ?