What is difference between these two sentences? Are these both grammatically right?

  1. Where could jack have put the matches?
  2. Where can jack have put the matches?

"Where could jack have put the matches?"
Where can jack have put the matches?

The word "could" refers to possibilities in the past.
For example "three days ago, Jack could have put the matches in the cupboard"
The word could shows that we are talking about the options available to Jack in the past.

The word "can" refers to where the matches might be now Where can the matches be today?
Even though the matches were put somewhere in the past, the matches can be in the cupboard now.

Jack could have put the matches on the kitchen counter before the dog ate them.

The sentence "Jack could have put the matches on the kitchen counter" does not imply the matches are currently where Jack put them.

The question "Where can Jack have put the matches?" implies that the locations where the matches can be now are the same as where they could have been put in the past.


Yes, you can say both of these with very little difference in meaning. In any case, ‘can - could’ does not change anything with respect to the temporal location of the question.

(Compare to “I can swim” vs. “I could swim (when I was younger)”, where the difference is temporal.)

Hope this helps.

  • 2
    Hello, and welcome to the ELL. Your answer can be much improved by giving references and clearer explanations. But before you do that, have a look at the tour of this site, it will tell you what a good answer looks like.
    – fev
    Jun 5 at 10:36

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