Jack lost his expensive earpods now his maid found it and told him that she found it in the living room. But Jack is sure that he hasn't been to the living room in the last few days. After listening to the whole story Jack's brother thinks that the maid intended to steal it but didn't, and says: "She gave it back because she knew that if you didn't/couldn't find it you would've told your father."

My questions:

1) Is the sentence correct given the context and which conditional is it?

2) Should he have said- "if you hand't found it?"

3) Which one is correct in this context between 'didn't' and 'couldn't?'

  • Regarding the first sentence, I would break it into two: "Jack lost his expensive earpods. Now his maid found..." I would even suggest to write "...earpods. His maid just found..." since it sounds like you're trying to describe a sudden discovery i.e. it was missing and now she found it. When narrating like this I think the word "just" gives that contrast. The word "now" in the beginning sounds a bit awkward. But I'm not sure about it. Also- I think it's "found them" using the plural when discussing earpods, since there are two, instead of "found it."
    – Binyomin
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 15:58
  • 1
    Thank you very much for the tips. I wonder why I wrote like that. May be it's because I wrote it in a hurry.
    – Ashraf
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


The sentence is correct. "Did" refers to something that happened. "Could" refers to something that was possible to have happened.

So saying "You didn't find it" would imply the fact that in actuality, it wasn't found. It might have been possible to be found, but it just wasn't found. Perhaps the person gave up looking too soon.

"You couldn't find it" implies that it wasn't possible to be found. You did everything possible, but it could not be found. It's a little bit of a stronger sense than just saying "didn't find."

Of course, some people would say "I couldn't find it" when they really just mean they hadn't looked hard enough. So some times people would use the terms interchangeably.

Saying "Hadn't" and "didn't" are basically used the same way. In this context I don't think there's really a difference.

  • So it's correct to say "she gave it back because she knew that if you didn't find it you would've told your father?" I don't know why but it still sounds wrong to me. Please let me know if I'm mistaken.
    – Ashraf
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 14:27
  • @Ashraf yes, I believe the sentence is correct.
    – Binyomin
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 14:32

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