Please help me understand the difference between these two sentences.
I only meant that your essay "is" less beautiful, but you "can" make it awesome.
I only meant that your essay "was" less beautiful, but you "could" make it awesome.
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I think in the first one the speaker is trying to convince the listener that his/her skill of essay writing is not that good so s/he can try to improve it, while in the second one the soeaker is not saying it generally (his essay writing skill) but s/he is saying that only at that very moment the listener's essay was not qualified and the listener needed to make it better.
Your essay writing skill is not that good, so you need to improve it.
Your essay (the one you wrote before) was not that good, but you could make it a really good one.