He used a microphone, so everyone could hear his voice.

This is an example sentence of "voice" in my dictionary.

I've heard that "could" is not the past tense of "can", so in the past tense, the single clause, "be able to" has to be used instead of "could". (from an English lecture on YouTube)

Then if the sentence is only "Everyone could hear his voice." without the "He used ~" clause in spite of the past tense, is it wrong expression? Is it correct to use "be able to" as below?

Everyone was able to hear his voice.

  • 1
    What is could if not the past tense of can?
    – Ed Grimm
    Jan 25, 2019 at 8:27
  • I don't know, but he said that "could" is just the less certain version of "can", not the past tense. so "could" can be used in both of the present tense and the past tense. Therefore, if you'd like to use "could" in the past tense instead of "be able to/managed to", you should use a past verb clause together like "I thought you could ~". For example, "I could get up early yesterday." doesn't make sense. "I was able to/managed to get up early yesterday." makes sense. right? said he. I learned that "could" is the past tense of "can" in the middle/high school. I'm confused...
    – JS.Kim
    Jan 25, 2019 at 14:10
  • 2
    Could most certainly is the past tense of can. There is nothing at all wrong with your example sentence. Was able to means the same thing as could. But could is shorter, simpler to say, and more natural. Jan 25, 2019 at 16:21
  • @JasonBassford Thank you.. one more, so you mean.. "I could get up early yesterday." is right expression and has the same meaning with "I was able to get up early yesterday."?
    – JS.Kim
    Jan 25, 2019 at 17:24
  • 1
    Yes, those have the same meaning. (But to be clear, both forms are fine. It's just a matter of preference which you choose. In specific contexts, one or the other might sound better.) Jan 25, 2019 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


Could is to would as can is to will. That is, could is the past tense of can, would is the past tense of will.

I think these words are possibly confusing due to their prevalence in 'perfect' tenses. Polite speech is often in these tenses - 'would you get this' rather than 'Will you get this', for example. I don't understand how that makes it more polite; to me, more polite would be, "Please get this". I especially am bothered with 'could you get this' or 'can you get this' in most instances in which people have used those to make requests of me. 'Could you answer the door?' for example. As a matter of fact, I've answered the door many times, I'm not crippled, I'm not tied up, and I'm dressed, so why are you doubting my ability to get the door? But that said, a lot of that is just me. I'm a bit autistic, so there's a lot of things about how words are used that don't entirely make sense to me.

I probably should have also asked what the past tense of can is if not could. I suppose it's not too late, so... What is the past tense of can if it isn't could?

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