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First, I understood that "you could have" = "you should do that in the past" as: "You could have done better on your exam." But, in these sentences, I see that it means "you shouldn't do that in the past" as: "You could have blown your chance." "You could have upset her by saying that." Now, I'm confused, what's the right meaning?

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"you could have" = "you should do that in the past" No, it doesn't mean that :)

It means that there you had the possibility to do something in the past, but it did not happen.

And that meaning fits all your examples:

You could have done better on your exam. -> you had the possibility to do better (but you did not).
You could have blown your chance. -> you had the possibility to blow your chance (but you did not).
You could have upset her by saying that. -> you had the possibility to upset her (but you did not).

The precise meaning depends a bit on context if you want to paraphrase the sentences correctly, of course:

You could have done better on your exam. -> "I believe you were capable of doing better (But you didn't show that)."
You could have blown your chance. -> "You risked blowing your chance (But you were lucky, you still have a chance)."
You could have upset her by saying that. -> "What you said was potentially upsetting to her (But she showed understanding and did not get upset)."

But every time, the basic meaning is the same and does express a possibility, not an obligation to do or do not do something.

  • could you explain "you had the possibility to upset her" is that means "he didn't upset her" – ahmed anwar Jun 3 '14 at 16:58
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    @ahmedanwar: good point. I added a bit :) – oerkelens Jun 3 '14 at 17:03
  • In this sense, "could have + past participle" can be replaced with "might have + past participle" with nearly no difference in meaning. Both structures express "possibility". Example: You shouldn't have jumped out of the window. You could have/might have hurt yourself (=it was possible but did not happen). – M.N Jun 3 '14 at 18:37
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We use could have to talk about someone being capable of doing something but didn't.

In "You could have done better on your exam", we're saying that you were capable of doing better. Reworded, we could say "You were capable of doing better on your exam, but you didn't".

A lot of times you'll find that could have is used when being critical, such that "You could have helped me carry the piano up the stairs" is critical of the person who didn't help carry the piano.

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The literal meaning of the phrase is to identify an option that the listener had that they didn't take or an outcome the listener didn't experience. Whether it would have been better or worse that what actually happened is contextual, both in terms of your perception as an observer/reader and in terms of what the speaker is intending to imply. It is usually fairly clear from the context, as in the cases you have identified and correctly assigned.

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