In this paragraph is could used as past simple of can or it is used as conditional which mean roughly the same thing as "can"?

Jack :" But they both happened on the day of the festival, right...?"

Bob :"Just think about it, do you think people with a lot of enemies here in this village could participate easily in a local festival?

It would be especially hard for them to be around during the festival.

So they probably left the village intentionally around this time of year to travel don't you think?".

1 Answer 1


In the paragraph, could is conditional. Be careful: can and could can only be used interchangeably regarding formality (Can we go? vs Could we go?). Otherwise, they're different.

If you were to ask if people can participate, you're asking if they are able to do so.

On the other hand, if you were to ask if people could participate, you're asking if it would be possible for them to do so.

  • I meant when used as conditional they mean practically the same thing ( Could you do that ? / Can you do that ? / He could run miles / He can run miles Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:42
  • @VeryBadAtEnglish Sorry, I was editing while you commented. The edit should answer your question.
    – Kman3
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:44
  • yes I just saw your edit, I have another question how do you know it is used as conditional and not as simple past ? since we have "So they probably left the village" they're talking about a past event. I'd like to be able to know the difference just from reading like you. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:46
  • @VeryBadAtEnglish I think there are two factors that lead us to interpret "could" as conditional: 1) the use of "a local festival" (Bob is hypothesizing about people with a lot of local enemies not being able to take part in local festivals), and 2) the use of "would", which forms a pair with conditional "could": people in that situation couldn't possibly participate without being seen. So the conclusion is that they left.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:56
  • @Gustavson Thanks - didn't quite know how to phrase it properly.
    – Kman3
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 0:57

You must log in to answer this question.

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