1. Michael and Ryan, like so many other veterans, sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, declined to speak to me, but the most common view among those I interviewed was that the V.A. has improved but still doesn’t do nearly enough about the suicide problem. “It’s an epidemic that is not being addressed fully,” said Bob Filner, a Democratic congressman from San Diego and the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “We could be doing so much more.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-veterans-death-the-nations-shame.html)

  2. He dispenses advice, tinged with just enough humor so that the condescension is not immediately apparent. (“You know what you should do is, go out and make a billion dollars first, and then run for office.”) Or he chides, gently, “Why are you wasting your time doing this? You could be doing something really meaningful.” <...> (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/24/the-untouchable)

  3. We want to gain a more accurate idea of what our community think about the issue. Have you experienced a mental health issue related to your work in the sector? Or do you have something to say about how organisations are supporting their staff on these issues? And what they could be doing better? (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/sep/23/share-your-stories-mental-health-and-wellbeing-in-the-aid-industry)

Q) What does "could be doing" mean? Are they really doing those things in the present in (1), (2) and (3)? Can I replace the "could" with "would" or "should"?

  • 1
    When you see could, you know that the action is possible, but it is not being done. Actually, you can't replace it, because you're not the person who wrote the article or said those things. Even if you could do that, you shouldn't, because that changes the meaning of the sentences. Apr 12, 2021 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


In the first two examples something is being done, but more doing is possible. Each writer says that should be happening. In the third the writer wants respondents to suggest what more might be possible.

If you replaced "could be done" by "should be done" you would miss the suggestion that the extra doing is actually possible under the circumstances.

You can't quite use "would be done" instead as a direct replacement. You could rewrite a sentence to say that more would be done if some external things changed.

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