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The whole context:

So I decided to make some meat pies. In a short time I was busy mixing butter and flour and my hands were soon covered with sticky pastry. At exactly that moment, the telephone rang. Nothing could have been more annoying.

According to the concept of the third conditional tense, "Nothing could have been more annoying" should be an unreal situation, but what is the real situation in this case?? I can't figure out the logic in it.

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    It is not a third conditional. It's the past tense: Nothing can be more annoying than getting a phone call when you are in the shower. Past tense: could have been. They could be great [future idea]; They could have been great [past idea]. – Lambie Apr 28 '18 at 18:05
  • @Lambie Thanks for your answer. Since the construction is the same when implies past action or unreal situation in the past, how could I tell which is which? – preachers Apr 28 '18 at 18:59
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The "unreal" situation is that "Nothing" did not happen. Instead, something happened: The telephone rang.

Compare:

A knock at the door could have been more irritating.

Here the "unreal" situation is the door knock (which didn't occur)

I don't think this analysis is very useful. Instead treat this as an idiom: "Nothing could have been more ..." to mean "It was the most ... thing."

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