2

John's mother: where is John?

  1. John's father: He is not in his room. He could be playing with his friends.

John's mother: where is John?

  1. John's father: He is in his room. He is always reading magazines. He could be playing with his friends.

Are they both correct? What is the difference between them (the italicized parts)?

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    #2 says he IS in his room – Mr. X Jun 15 at 22:19
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    But you said the italicized parts. – Lambie Jun 16 at 11:48
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    I think they're really two different uses of "could". I wanted someone to bring out that difference for me. – Mr. X Jun 16 at 13:12
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    Then why would a dictionary (links below) provide a number of different nuances of the word "could" (or any other word, for that matter), if "could" means the same thing in all contexts? It looks the same, sounds the same, but still carries a slightly different nuance in a different context. (collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/could)...(https://… etc – Mr. X Jun 16 at 14:43
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    @Lambie, no, those sentences don't mean the same thing. They mean something very different. – Kevin Jun 16 at 15:46
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They are both correct, and on one level, they both mean the same thing: it is possible that he could be playing with his friends.

On another level, they mean something different; #1 means "It is a realistic possibility that he might be playing with his friends right now (because I do not know what he is doing)", and #2 means "He could be playing with his friends if he wanted to (although I know he is not)". But that is really more a question of logic and interpretation.

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  • @Lambie: A sentence can be correct in one context, but not in another - the question asks about one sentence in two similar, but different, contexts. – psmears Jun 16 at 13:24
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    @Lambie: I don't know what language the OP speaks, so I can't comment on that. The usage of could is clearly different, because the first could can be validly replaced by may, without significantly changing the meaning, whereas the second one cannot. – psmears Jun 16 at 14:38
  • see my comment above... – Mr. X Jun 16 at 14:46
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  1. suggests that John may actually be playing with his friends (as he is not to be found in his room).

  2. suggests that John ought to be playing with his friends (rather than reading in his room).

The second and last sentences of 2. would frequently be joined by when to reinforce this point.

Yes, both are correct.

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  • If, instead of "when", the join in example 2 used "but", we'd have a different meaning, almost intermediate between the other two: he may have friends playing in his room with him (or online these days). – Chris H Jun 16 at 10:24
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  • John's father: He is not in his room. He could be playing with his friends.

  • John's father: He is in his room. He is always reading magazines. He could be playing with his friends.

In both cases, the kid could be playing with this friends. What is different is not the use of could be playing in those sentences.

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    The usages of could are slightly different - the first indicates possibility (John may or may not be playing with his friends right now), while the second indicates opportunity (John has the option of playing with his friends, but is definitely not at the moment). – Nuclear Hoagie Jun 16 at 15:23
  • I do see but for me the difference is not in sentences themselves. It's in the prior sentences. – Lambie Jun 16 at 16:14
  • The real difference here is the "He is always reading magazines" part. Without that, he may or may not be playing with his friends in either case, it's just that in the second example his friends (if they are indeed playing) are implied to be in the room with him, and in the first none of them are in the room. It's the mention of another activity - reading magazines - that heavily implies that he is in fact not playing with his friends. – Darrel Hoffman Jun 16 at 18:02
  • @DarrelHoffman Let's take another example: "I could be playing with my friends", she said to the person on the phone. See? Without more context, we cannot say what "she means" exactly. – Lambie Jun 16 at 18:59
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They are both correct.

In #1 you are using a present tense. The conditional "could be" could be an "is".

In #2 you are using a "future" tense. (future imperfect) Speculating about what John "could" do in the future.

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