If I say:

It could be interesting

= "the thing had a chance to be interesting" -- either was or wasn't interesting.

It could have been interesting

= "the thing could be interesting, but actually it wasn't."

And what about:

You could do it

= "I don't understand why you didn't do it."

"You could have done it"

= I don't understand why you didn't do it.

Which one is correct?

  • 1
    "it could be interesting" is not a statement about anything in the past. All your explanations appear to say the interesting thing already happened. In fact the phrase refers to something in the future, something that will be happening. So, for example, if someone asks you to go the museum, and you respond that it could be interesting, it would indicate a willingness to go. The same with the second phrase -- not something you had not done, but something you could do now or in the future.
    – karyse
    Dec 18, 2016 at 18:03
  • I agree with you that " it could be interesting" can refer to the present. But what if the verb "could" is the past tense of the verb can?
    – Chery
    Dec 18, 2016 at 18:17

1 Answer 1


"It could be interesting" is an expression about a future event, not a past event. "Could be" is not the past tense of can. Could is a helping verb that indicates possibility and modifies "be", which is simple present tense. The past tense of this, as you know, is "could have been".

It could be interesting = It has a chance to be interesting.

It could have been interesting = It had the chance to be interesting, but it wasn't.

This works the same with other verbs:

You could do it = You have the chance or ability to do it.

You could have done it. = You had the chance / ability to do it, but you didn't.

Other examples:

You could have gone skiing with Jenny this weekend (if you'd only asked her)

You could have taken Spanish last term (instead of English).

  • Thank you very much for your answer! but what If I say " I could sing very well when I was young" this sentence refers to the past - or the past is mentioned here?
    – Chery
    Dec 18, 2016 at 21:37

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