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She could have passed the test if she had studied harder.

In this sentence could is modal verb.

then what is have. main verb,or helping verb?

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  • "Have" is the perfect auxiliary verb.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 6:03
  • 3
    Note that auxiliary verbs are also known as helping verbs. Could is also a helping verb but another type called modal auxiliary verb. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 6:31
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    @SyedDanishAnwar No substance can be given to the idea that auxiliaries are “helping verbs”. I would thus strongly recommend dropping the term.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 12:25
  • @BillJ, your latter comment contradicts your former. You're claiming that the very substance you've given can't be given. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 20:42
  • @BillJ In the ESL teaching world, the terms "auxiliary verb" and "helping/helper verb" are used interchangeably. Some textbooks stick to the latter because it's easier to understand. I get why you don't like the term, but it's meaningful to a lot of ESL students who may never have heard the term "auxiliary verb".
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 23:11

2 Answers 2

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What the other answers have not explained is that using these past constructions makes it a irrealis or counter-factual conditional.

She could pass the test if she tries

is not counter-factual: it hasn't happened yet and it might.

She could have passed the test if she tried

is counter-factual: it implies that she didn't pass the test, and the conditional is hypothetical.

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  • I agree - but I would feel bound to backshift the subsequent verb "...if she had tried", or "...had she tried". Equally "She could pass the test if she tried". Am I just unfashionable?
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 22:22
  • I would probably say if she had tried (or, more likely, if she'd tried, so the 'd would be inaudible in rapid speech) myself; but I would not object to the form without had.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 23:16
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    Of course, what we all say in casual speech, can be quite different to that which we'd write in an essay. And many a disagreement on these sites is occasioned by people simply coming at the same thing from different positions.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 5:12
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It indicates the perfect past tense, as an auxiliary verb. The present-tense version is:

She could pass the test if she tried

The past tense is then:

She could have passed the test if she had tried

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