In this sentence would it be better to use 'would' or 'could?' What's the difference?

I [would/could] go to the party, but I wasn't invited.

  • All sorts of "mixed tenses" are tolerated in (particularly, spoken, colloquial) English. But most likely you'd want would/could have gone in this context, because it's a better fit with wasn't invited. – FumbleFingers Nov 7 '13 at 22:42
  • Actually, @FumbleFingers- Consider: Margot: "I'm going to Kate's party tonight. Are you." "No, I would go, but I wasn't invited." – Jim Nov 7 '13 at 23:02
  • What about "I could go to the party, but I wasn't invited," as in "Even though I wasn't invited, I could still go?" Anyway, I think between choster's answer and the comments, we've got some great answers. I'll mark his answer as answering the question. Thanks for the help and comments! – Drew Ogryzek Nov 8 '13 at 1:29

There are many different uses of would and could, and depending on the context, using could may or may not make sense here.

I think would here would take the sense of

would (willing) - used to talk about what someone was willing to do or what something was able to do

Thus, to say

I would go to the party, but I wasn't invited.

expresses that you would like to go to the party— but will not because you were not invited.

But you could use could here in the sense of

could (possibility) - used to express possibility, especially slight or uncertain possibility

Suppose, for example, I am weighing my options for what to do on the weekend.

We could go on a picnic, but it might rain. I could go hiking, but my knee might act up again. I could go to the party, but I wasn't invited.

You acknowledge the possibility of those activities, but you do not necessarily desire to do so, and think it unlikely you will, because you anticipate some problems.

  • 3
    Yes, but another feasible implication of using could here is in the sense of having the capability/would be able to. For example, "I have the requisite jacket and tie, so I could go to the party if I were invited." Which is slightly different to "Perhaps I could go to the party - I haven't made my mind up yet." – FumbleFingers Nov 7 '13 at 22:50
  • @FumbleFingers Fair enough. I eliminated several other hypothetical examples I was going to include, as the answer was getting incredibly unwieldy. – choster Nov 7 '13 at 23:34

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