I'd like to ask if this sentence describes something that happened in the past or something of the present or future.
"We could not conceive that he might soon be dead."
Does it mean 'we' were not able to conceive his death or we are not likely to be able to conceive that?
The sentence is an example sentence from Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary in the entry for 'conceive'. There is no context attached to it at all.
As I am a non-native English speaker, understanding the meaning of this sentence is tricky. It is because the modal verb could can be used for two different ways: the first use is for describing something you were not able to do in the past as in I couldn't hear you because there was a lot of noise on the street, and the second use is for a guess or an assumption about the present or future as in I don't think she could afford it. She has recently lost her job.
Thank you for your help. Any explanation will be appreciated.