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I was driving in the right lane and another driver wanted to turn right (from the left lane) so he crashed into my car (no one was injured). The driver said “I didn’t see you” and I said “how could you not see me?”. Afterwards, I started thinking that maybe I should have said “how could you not have seen me?”.

Can anyone help me understand the difference between these two sentences?

Thank you!

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Sorry to hear about your car accident.

When you said "how could you not see me", the other driver likely understood perfectly what you meant, but technically your second suggestion of "how could you not have seen me" is a better choice.

This is because "see me" is technically in the "present tense", meaning that it's pertaining to the current moment, whereas "have seen me" is referring specifically to the event that occured in the past (i.e. the car accident).

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  • Thanks for the prompt response! But doesn’t “could” also indicate ability in the past?
    – Alon
    Dec 28, 2021 at 20:20
  • @Alon You're right, but "could" is not always used for the past tense. For example, I could say "please could you get me a glass of water?" and the respondent could say "I could, but if I do it for you, then you won't get any exercise". I used the word "could" but nothing was in the past tense there. Dec 28, 2021 at 20:23
  • I see, so if I understand correctly I didn’t make a mistake by not saying “have”, but if I had, it would have been clearer. Is that right?
    – Alon
    Dec 28, 2021 at 20:31
  • @Alon In my opinion, what you said is okay, and the person probably understood you exactly, but it would have been better to add the word "have" there :) Dec 28, 2021 at 20:32
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    Nothing you just said is "simple". Mar 24, 2022 at 15:13

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