I am intrigued by something I have tried to translate from German to English.

I intend to say that I had to write an exam (a translation) once which I couldn´t really prepare for other than trying to broaden my vocabulary as much as possible because they didn´t tell us the topic the text would be about.

"I couldn´t prepare better for the exam than to broaden my vocabulary because it could have been any kind of text they would give us."

Is this correct? "Could have been" should only be used for things that could have been possible but didn´t happen, right?

Should I rather say:

"...because they could give us any kind of text!"

I don´t get it! "Could have been any text the would give us" just sounds so right!?

  • German "Treasury of words" (Wortschatz) is English "vocabulary".
    – Drossel
    Apr 4 '18 at 10:35
  • You could not prepare for the exam other than to broaden your vocabulary because there was no telling what kind of text they would give us. (no telling is colloquial). Apr 4 '18 at 14:12
  • or because there was no way to know what kind of text they would give us or because they could have given us almost any kind of text. Apr 4 '18 at 14:15
  • or other than by broadening... Apr 4 '18 at 14:17
  • Could you also explain why "could have been" would be wrong to use here or in other words: was my assumption of it being wrong right? Apr 4 '18 at 19:57

How you said could have been works is correct. It is if something could happen but didn't.

"Could have been" does work in this context but the ending "they would give us" doesn't really agree with it, "they would give us" needs to be in the past e.g they gave us.

Tᴚoɯɐuo is right in the correction that "exam than to broaden" should be "exam other than to broaden"

Hope this has helped.

  • My problem here is that I see a semantical problem with my usage of "could have been" if it means that something could have happened but didn´t: "It could have been any text..." Yes, but doesn´t the usage of "could have been" imply that they didn´t? Can it stand on its own semantical feet? The Cambridge Grammar seems to see it differently: dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/… ( could in the past). I could have been a lawyer (but I didn´t). That is what I am confused about. I thought you could use it just meaning "this could have happened". Apr 5 '18 at 19:41
  • I'm not a linguist so I don't fully know all the language rules (I'm just a native speaker) but when I use "could have been", I often use it in it could have been anything which is the way it was being used in your example. I think that allows it to break the rules a bit because it isn't saying that it didn't happen just that a lot of things might have happened.
    – L Smith
    Apr 5 '18 at 20:48

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