0

This comes up while I am watching westworld. There is one scene in it. Teddy did some horrible things without consciousness. Then he backed to normal and asked Delores "How could I have done that?" Now I'm confused about this. As I learned from the grammar book, "could have done" is only used in unreal condition in the past or making a guess in the past. In this case, Teddy had already done the horrible things so the "unreal condition" explanation may not work. He also already knew the result so it's not like a guess either. Why didn't he say "How had I done that"? I'm puzzled here. Could anyone help share some insights on this? Thanks in advance.

1

He is separating himself from the action. He is admitting he did the action but also admitting it was wrong. He is stating disbelief that he would ever have done the thing he did. Could means 'possibly' in this usage.

0
0

Can/could, present and past tense, no IF clause or whether or other idea.

How could I have done* that? is the past tense of: How can I do that?

How can you say she is rich [right now, present]? How could you say she was rich [yesterday]? Or: How could you have said she was rich?

Summary: present tense: can, simple past: could + verb, past perfect: could have + participle.

That is a difference usage than: He could have gone, if he had had the money. There is your unreal condition.

These are two separate uses of CAN versus COULD or COULD + verb and COULD HAVE + participle.

16
  • Thanks for your answer. Is that an oral English usage which can not be found in grammar book? Is that common in US nowadays?
    – zhe
    Feb 8 '17 at 1:34
  • @zhe It has nothing at all to do with American usage or spoken English, except I have spoken English examples. It's the same in all varieties of English. In written English, the tenses are CAN (present), COULD (simple past) COULD HAVE + past particle. Could have + past participle usually implies an unreal condition but not always: More examples: //How could the politicians have done this to their constituents?// You see?
    – Lambie
    Feb 8 '17 at 1:41
  • They did do it (whatever) so, in fact, there is no unreal condition. //What possibly could have happened to those kids? It's midnight.// //The voters could have elected him because they are stupid.// [See? past tense of actual event].
    – Lambie
    Feb 8 '17 at 1:44
  • @ Lambie Take the last one for example. The unreal conditon usage: I know the result he isn't the president. I can say "The voters could have elected him". It means The voters had the ability to elect him to a president but voters didn't elect him. The guess in the past usage: I don't know the result if he is the president now. I say "The voters could have elected him". It means I only make a guess if the voters elected him.
    – zhe
    Feb 8 '17 at 6:48
  • Can I understand your explanation like this: I know the result he is the president. I can still say "The voters could have elected him because they are stupid" which also equals "The voters could elect him because they are stupid". Is this a third usage different from the two above? Am I understanding that right?
    – zhe
    Feb 8 '17 at 6:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .