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I read this sentence in a Youtube video that explains the meaning of even if.

She could have paid more, but she'd got the same service.

with even if:

Even if she had paid more, she'd have got the same service.

It appears from the example that "could have" indicates a real event that actually took place in the past - not merely a possibility. (the woman had actually paid more).

Yet it is very confusing when "could have" indicates a possibility like in

"You could have completed it sooner."

So how could we know the real meaning of "could have" in both cases ? For Example:

Simon could have told her.

Did Simon tell her or not ?

Source: Youtube video Minute 9:50

Thank you

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  • could you please provide a link to the video? Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 17:15
  • see this description of 'could have' - it can have two meanings, and in your case, if they used "even if" as a substitute, it must be meaning 1 (counterfactual: "even though it did not happen") Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 17:23
  • @CowperKettle , I have made an edit. Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 17:44
  • Thank you for the link. After seeing the link , it seems I have misunderstood the meaning of Even if , I thought the sentence in the video meant something actually happened in the past not just a possibility or speculation. Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 18:02
  • I would not use the contraction "she'd" in your examples, as it might be misunderstood.
    – user3169
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 1:15

1 Answer 1

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She could have paid more, but she'd got the same service.

In this sentence, "could have paid" indicates that she had that possibility in the past but did not use that possibility.

You are right, could have + verb is an ambiguous construction, and we rely on context to derive its true meaning.

From the Macmillan Dictionary:

  1. used for saying that something was possible in the past, even though it did not happen
    You could have been killed.
    I could have told you, but I didn’t think you would listen.
    She could have married Gerald if she’d wanted to.

  2. used for saying that perhaps something was true, although you do not really know
    The explosion could have been caused by a gas leak.
    It could have been Dan, but I’m not sure.


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