The following sentence is collected from cricinfo.com:

They were under a little bit of pressure then. If we could have carried on, we could have set them 220 or even more than that. So to get out then was very disappointing.

I wonder why the writer has used "could have + carried on " instead of "had + carried on". What does the writer want to express?

  • Because the writer is discussing the possibility; using had carried on gets rid of the phrasing as possibility. Modals make all the difference in English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


The writer wants to express:

We wanted to carry on, but it was not possible.

If they had simply written If we had carried on ... it would have expressed only that they did not do so.

In this context, could + not + have + [past participle] is used to say that something was not possible, or that it didn't happen (was not "real", actualized, or manifested). The not is implied in the conditional formation.

"There is no past tense, but could have followed by a past participle is used for referring to something in the past that was not real, or something that may possibly have been real: I could have been killed.
What was that noise? Could it have been the wind?"

-- https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/could


"Could have carried on" is simply inexact English. Your instinct is correct: "If we had carried on, we could have set them..." would have been a much better construction.

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