I have a scenario where I would normally use a second conditional like this:

"If I wanted to, I could do this and that even now". Now from the context it was somewhat implicit, that it was something I could do, if I wanted to. So I ended up with something like "Like I said, I could do this and that" (with silent if I wanted to).

Is that the right conditional? And if so, how does listener know what I meant by "I could do this and that"? Could they mix up between:

  • I could and I actually did, and
  • I could (I had and maybe still have the option to), but I didn't?

There are situations where could can be ambiguous, since it is used both as a past tense of can and to express a hypothetical.

- Did you have any unique skills when you were a kid?

- I could speak English.

- How are we going to communicate?

- I could speak in English.

The context usually makes it clear whether you're referring to an actual situation in the past, or a possibility in the present/near future. Note that expressing an unrealized possiblility in the past (your "I could, but I didn't") will typically use Present Perfect after could:

- How did you manage to communicate with him?

- I could have spoken in English, but I opted for German.

Here is a good reference for the various uses of can/could.

  • Thanks. Is this even conditional, or is conditional only when we use "would" and not "could"?
    – Ev0oD
    Aug 22 '20 at 13:32

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