It’s ten o’clock. They could have arrived now.

Does this “could have” indicates they “could have” but they didn’t? If my conclusion is correct, Are there anyother possible interpretations or not?

  • 3
    There's no way of knowing if they arrived or not at the time that sentence is said. It only means might have or are capable of having. Even should have doesn't mean certainty. Jul 9, 2020 at 6:38
  • @JasonBassford I have studied that could+ have is used for past ability while indicating that action did not take place. For example “I could have revealed the secret” indicatesI could have, but I did not. Is this wrong? Or the same interpretation is not possible in the question given by me? Jul 9, 2020 at 6:53
  • 2
    No, that's not right. (1) I could have revealed the secret, and I did!. (2) I could have revealed the secret, but I didn't! The use of could itself says nothing aside from capability and possibility. Jul 9, 2020 at 7:09
  • That's right. They could have arrived and be waiting for you. Jul 9, 2020 at 8:10
  • 2
    The key as ever, is context - that should make it clear whether the author knows the answer or not. The author might be saying "why aren't they here yet?" or they might be saying "I presume that they HAVE arrived there."
    – MikeB
    Jul 9, 2020 at 8:44

1 Answer 1


The problem is that “now” is present tense, whereas “could have” is past tense.

What that sentence seems to be saying is that they could have arrived at this precise moment in the present, which negates the past tense of “could have”.

What you would actually say is:

They could have arrived by now.

If you were in the place of their possible arrival, awaiting them, then more idiomatically you would hear:

They could have been here by now.

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