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Today, I was watching this YouTube video, I found that at 1:18, she used the 'could' in the if-clause. I just want to know, is it right grammatically, or is it a new grammar rule that I don't know?

This is the transcript:

If you could have anything right now, what would you want to have?

Final Question

Do people really use grammatical rules of conditional in real life?

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  • Are you asking about the part where she says, "If you could have anything you wanted"?
    – stangdon
    Apr 26, 2021 at 15:33
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    @Aarsh Please always include the text in your question, in case the link breaks, and to save people from having to click the link. I've added it in for you this time.
    – rjpond
    Apr 26, 2021 at 15:42
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    Yes, people do use if sentences like "If you could have anything you wanted?" In fact, it's common. Apr 26, 2021 at 15:46
  • The if- clause there refers to a counterfactual condition (in reality, the addressee can't have anything he wants). We usually use a Past Tense verb in If you could have anything you wanted, but there are an awful lot of written instances using Present Tense If you could have anything you want carrying exactly the same meaning. So really, it's just a "stylistic choice". Apr 26, 2021 at 17:09

1 Answer 1

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Could can either have a past meaning (=was able to) or a conditional meaning (=would be able to). For example, in the sentence "When I was younger I could run five miles", "could" means "was able to" and serves as the past tense of "can".

As you know, in the Second Conditional, the simple past is used in the condition clause, while "would" +infinitive is used in the result clause, e.g. "If I were hungry, I would eat a sandwich".

Even though the simple past is used in the condition clause (with the caveat that "were" is sometimes substituted for "was"), it doesn't describe past time here, but a hypothetical situation (specifically, one that isn't in the past).

So, because "could" serves as the past of "can", "If I could..." means "If I were able to...", imagining a hypothetical present/future in which you could do something.

The following sentence therefore fits the Second Conditional paradigm.

If you could have anything right now, what would you want to have?

This is not to say that all conditional sentences fit squarely into one of the paradigms taught to learners. Those numbered conditionals are a simplification designed for teaching purposes.

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