I have my own problem, may be others too. I'm confused with the usage of 'Could'. I have the following problems.

Conditional sentences:

Well, I could go with you if you really wanted me to.(I have seen this word written.)

Can't we write it following way:

Well, I could go with you if you really want me to.

and if we can or can't, What are differences between the two?

Another example:

You could take the ferry if you wanted to, if that seemed like a good idea to you.(I have seen this word written)

Can't we write it as:

You could take the ferry if you want to, if that seems like a good idea to you.

Another example

Can we use 'Could' following way to speak about present continuous:

John could be the one who is stealing the money.

I have confusion about if writer is speaking about past or present or future. It would be nice if someone can/could explain this to me with a few examples.

  • 1
    You have asked various questions. I will deal with the first one. I think it would be more idiomatic to say I could go with you if you want me to.Particularly this is the case if it is clear you haven't already made your decision about whether you want me to go. But wanted really only applies if the final decision has been made. I could go with him if he wanted me to, but he has said he doesn't.
    – WS2
    Oct 23, 2016 at 11:09
  • @WS2: I think it largely depends on how "hypothetical" the speaker thinks his going along might be (usually, that would be a proxy for how "desirable" he finds the prospect). If I didn't really want to get involved, I'd probably exaggerate the "irrealis" aspect of that possible (but undesirable) future by couching it in as many conditionals as I could reasonably get away with (anything short of saying I don't want to, but if it's really a matter of life and death I suppose reluctantly, I will :) Oct 23, 2016 at 16:33
  • @FumbleFingers I agree that the position is more complicated than my comment suggested. But as this is ELL and not ELU, I'm not sure it is the right place to get into the matter more deeply..
    – WS2
    Oct 26, 2016 at 11:43

1 Answer 1


It has to be with the use of conditionals of course. For your first sentence you have two possible choices:

  1. Well, I can go if you really want me to.
  2. Well, I could go if you really wanted me to.

Now, with the second one you mean that the person you are speaking with doesn't want you to go.

For the use of conditionals we cant think about an example. Imagine that you want to buy a new expensive cellphone. You think: if I save enough money, I will be able to buy it. After some time you notice that you haven't been saving enough money. Then you think: if I saved enough money (which I'm not doing), I could buy that phone. At the end of the year you realise that you don't have enough money, so, you don't buy the phone (or you buy another phone). You express your regret by saying: if I had saved enough money, I would be enjoying my brand new phone by now (what a pity).

  • There is nothing wrong with "I could go if you really want me to". Oct 24, 2016 at 2:26

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