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  1. John could drive the car.

  2. The car could be driven by John

The second sentence is the passive form of the first sentence.

But I have read in a book for teaching methodology that the two sentences have a range of difference in meaning.

The first sentence talks about both ability and possibility.

But the second sentence talks about possibility only.

Do the two sentences differ in meaning? If yes:

I would like to know whether the change is syntactical or semantical?

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  1. John could drive the car.

Without further context, the sentence above has four possible meanings or interpretations.

PAST
a.) At some point in the past, John had the ability to drive a particular car.

  • John could drive the car [his mother's] when he was 16.

b.) At some point in the past, John was allowed to drive that car.

  • His mother said that John could drive the car only when he passed his driver's test.

PRESENT

c.) John might be able to drive the car

  • We don't know if he has the ability to drive a particular car [today].

d.) It's not certain that John is allowed to drive the car

  • We don't know if he has permission to drive that car.
  1. The car could be driven by John

Is only the present simple passive.

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Do the two sentences differ in meaning?

Yes.

I would like to know whether the change is syntactical or semantical?

Both.

The syntactic difference you've already identified as being the difference between active and passive.

The semantic difference comes from the word "could". "Could" usually answers a question regarding possibility. Without any additional context, it is hard to say if the meaning of the two sentences are the same, but the answer is that it is possible for them to mean the same thing while emphasizing either John or the car.

The first sentence would answer the question "What could John drive?" indicating the person may be interested in John's capability as a driver, or with more context could indicate John needs to drive a vehicle to go somewhere, but which vehicle is not clear.

The second sentence would answer the question "Who could drive the car?" indicating the asker is more concerned about the operation of the vehicle.

The tricky part is that either sentence could really answer either question, depending on what the speaker wants to emphasize.

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