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Watching this skit, I came across a line, one of the standing men waiting for the crossroads sign on, per below, (from 0:14~)

Couldn't hurt to press it again

but it won't help I mean.

I surfed thorough internet and found in a bit expression but the meaning would be same,

it doesn’t hurt to do something

used for saying that something helps or cannot harm a situation It never hurts to ask.

The definition of the dictionary is completely understandable, because it doesn't harm the current situation.

Now why does the guy in the skit use the past tense of "can" ( couldn't hurt to... )

P.S I'm afraid this video is unfortunately not available in some countries including even English speaking countries.

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  • He's using couldn't in a situation where I use wouldn't. But his is American! The reality is that it will (can, in his case) not hurt to push it again but as the event of pushing is not confirmed, he is using the past tense, which is how we talk about imaginary outcomes in the future. Jun 20, 2020 at 22:51
  • Hi @BruceMurray, would you mind posting that as an answer? Comments are meant to improve the question, not to solve it.
    – Glorfindel
    Jun 21, 2020 at 12:47

1 Answer 1

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Actually, this is a conditional rather than a true past tense. And this saying that the risk of trying something is very low is more frequently expressed in the conditional than in the indicative. After all, if you are certain that the correct course of action is X, then the sensible thing to say is "Do X."

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=doesn't+hurt+to%2Ccouldn't+hurt%2Cwouldn't+hurt+to&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cdoes%20not%20hurt%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bdoes%20not%20hurt%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BDoes%20not%20hurt%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Ccould%20not%20hurt%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bcould%20not%20hurt%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BCould%20not%20hurt%3B%2Cc0%3B.t4%3B%2Cwould%20not%20hurt%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bwould%20not%20hurt%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BWould%20not%20hurt%20to%3B%2Cc0

The "would" and "could" forms represent expressions of belief less than absolute certainty. The form with "do" represents an expression of certainty.

Not all speakers of English are careful in their use of conditionals, but some are.

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