2

Scene 1

Bad guy (Raymond Sellars): Alex, honestly, I mean you no harm. If I wanted to, I could have killed you a long time ago. I just aim this right at your head and blow it off.

Alex's wife: Sellars, please! Don't!

Bad guy: I mean, if I wanted to, I could just aim this at your little family and I could just kill them too. And really, there's nothing you could do about it because, let's face it, you're a robot.

Scene 2

Bad guy (Raymond Sellars): What's clear is that with just one system in place, we've cut crime by 80%. Just imagine if we put, I dunno, let's say 100 systems in place. And then, I want you to ask yourself, why are you holding us back?

Senator: Is that your plan?

TV show host(Pat): Thank you, Senator. And thank you, Raymond.

Bad guy: Thank you, Pat.

TV show host: Well, there you have it. Who could argue with that? Which begs the question. Has the US Senate become pro-crime?

--Robocop 2014

Mr. Modal comes back again.

I have figured out all of "could" in this movie except for these two. Why not use "can" or "would" instead?

For the first one, if that "could" followed the previous ones, the sentence would be "there would be nothing you can do about it", I suppose.

For the second, is the sentence the same as "Who would be able to argue with that?

  • 1
    I read the first one as a hypothetical usage (following that if I wanted to), and the second one as a less definite form of can. – Damkerng T. May 17 '14 at 12:25
  • For the first one, we think alike. But like I said, the sentence should be "there would be nothing you can do about it". @Damkerng T – Kinzle B May 17 '14 at 12:29
  • Could can be used in that sense. I think you probably have PEU. If you have it, try 122.6. – Damkerng T. May 17 '14 at 12:35
  • I know that. You see, I put that point even in my question. I am asking why "is" is not shifted into "would be". @Damkerng T – Kinzle B May 17 '14 at 12:49
  • I believe that saying "Who would be able to ..." is less idiomatic than "Who could ...", though I wouldn't go so far to say that people don't say "would be able to". You might also find this unfair Ngram chart interesting. To be fair, "would be able to argue" should be compared to "could argue", and yet "who could argue" obviously outnumbers the other. – Damkerng T. May 17 '14 at 13:05
1

In the first example, "there's nothing you could do about it," could is can in the conditional mood. The conditional is used because the entire situation is hypothetical. Compare with this non-hypothetical example:

Bad guy: I will aim this at your little family and I just kill them too. And really, there's nothing you can do about it because, let's face it, you're a robot.


The second example is a bit trickier to analyze, I think. Your interpretation — "Who would be able to argue with that?" — is correct. Using could instead of can expresses doubt. "Who can argue with that?" would be closer to a challenge — an invitation for someone to come forth and try to argue. By saying "Who could argue with that?", the speaker is expressing that he thinks nobody would succeed.

I think that the second definition explains that usage — could is used to express conditional ability.

  • I thought so, but why isn't the main verb "is" changed to conditional mood? @200_success – Kinzle B May 18 '14 at 1:58
  • And what would that sentence look like? – 200_success May 18 '14 at 2:05
  • "There would be nothing you can do about it." – Kinzle B May 18 '14 at 2:06
  • So why shift the verb in the sub-clause, not the main verb? I thought the main verb is always preferred. – Kinzle B May 18 '14 at 2:10
  • Oops, sorry, I didn't read that carefully. "There would be nothing you could do about it" would be acceptable. "There would be nothing you can do about it" would be a verb form disagreement. – 200_success May 18 '14 at 2:14

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