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From Child Protective Service (David): I take it Bill told you about Callie?

Lena: Yes

David: Yes, well, it seems that she has been having a few issues with male authority figures, of late. Which is..

Lena: That's why you thought of us.

David: Right!

Lena: So she got into a fight with her foster father?

David: And damage some of his property, which is how she landed here in juvie.

Lena: Damage his property?Wow, David, I can't bring someone violent into my house. I have got my own kids to think about.

David: No, this was just a one time thing.

Lena: Ummm...but...

David: So I guess I could take her to one of the group homes.

TV Shows: Fosters P.S.: Lena and her partner, Stephanie, who are lesbian, live with their foster children. Now David, from Child Protective Service, asked Lena to have Callie in her house for a while.

1)What is the use of "could" here? Is it used for giving suggestion or for talking about the possibility in the future?

2)Can we use "might" instead?

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'Could' is technically just the past tense of 'can'.

I can run faster than most people.

= I can faster than most people now.

I could run faster than most people.

= I used to be able to run faster than most people in the past.

But 'could' is also one of the ways of creating the subjunctive mood ... used for things which are uncertain or indefinite.

I could run faster than most people today, if I really wanted to.

The above sentence is in the present subjunctive, not the past active. It provides the sense of uncertainty arising from 'if', to say "I am able to run faster if I want, but whether I do or not is not currently certain."

So your suggestions for what 'could' means are actually exactly right.

1) I could take her to one of the group homes.

Means "I am able to take her to a group home, but I have not yet received clear instructions to do so. I have the ability, but it is not clear yet if I need to."

2) Can you use 'might'? Yes.

'Might' is another way of indicating uncertainty. 'Could' has more of a sense of "I am able to; I can". So it indicates ability.

I 'might' do something is most commonly used to say "I can do something, I have the ability, but I have not yet decided whether I will. I'll do it if I want to, but I have not made a decision.

So it indicates a state of indecision by the subject of the sentence.

I might take her to one of the group homes,

Means "I am capable of taking her to one of the group homes (I can take her), but I have not decided whether I will take her.*"

In modern informal English, there is a strong preference for 'can', 'could' when talking of possibilities. Some people consider this grammatically wrong, but in 'real life', it is very common.

Can you open the door?

The above sentence is often used to ask someone to open a door. In other words 'would you please open the door for me?' In a strict logical sense 'can you' means 'are you able to/do you have the ability to', to which the answer for almost everybody is 'yes'. Everybody can open a door. Strict grammarians would suggest we all should say:

Would you open the door?

We know you can open the door, but will you please do so, right now?

In real life, the differentiation between 'can'/'could' and 'will/'would' is very rarely observed. 'Can/could' are used a lot more often than 'will/would'.

But ... if you want to sound really smart and expert at English, say 'will/would'. To many people it will sound 'fancy' and 'clever'. So long as you are not really asking whether someone can do something.

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  • It's not subjunctive, it's conditional. – TonyK Mar 10 '19 at 11:27
  • The subjunctive is a mood, not a voice. – JdeBP Mar 10 '19 at 13:00
  • @JdeBP. You are correct. I mistyped, fixed. – fred2 Mar 10 '19 at 16:58
  • @TonyK. I'm not sure you are correct. For me, conditional is "If A happens, then B will happen". In any case, I'm more interested in explaining why people choose to use 'could, would, might and may', so I think my points stand. – fred2 Mar 10 '19 at 16:59
  • @fred2: No: "If A happens" is a conditional clause, which has no conditional verb. Conditional verbs are seen in "If A happened, then B would happen": "happened" and "would" are conditional verbs. Just like "could". (And you are wrong to say that it's "just the past tense of 'can'": it is also the conditional of 'can', with a different meaning.) HTH. – TonyK Mar 10 '19 at 17:36
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No. David has a limited number of choices basically Lena, juvie or one of the group homes. Juvie is where the child is now, so isn’t really a choice (if it was considered equal to or better than the alternatives he wouldn’t be spending time trying to change it). That leaves the group homes.

He is saying that if Lena won’t take the child, the only other option is to try one of the group homes (which most likely are either full or have their own issues, possibly both). It’s not that he “might” consider them, but that he will have no choice but to do so...and for whatever reason that is only marginally better than doing nothing.

To rephrase to might so it would make sense, would require changing it to “Might just leave her in juvie”. But that would entirely change the meaning to it being about him (too much trouble to bother with), and not about what is good for the child.

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