Is it possible to use Can have + Past Participle for past possibilities?
I Know could have or might have are mostly used, but is the following possible?

It could have been Bill's note
It might have been Bill's note
It can have been Bill's note

  • 3
    What does 'v3' mean? Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 10:43
  • Past participle
    – Sergül
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 11:05
  • 1
    "I don't see how he can have been there." We don't know if he was there or not, but it seems impossible that he was. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 13:07
  • @KateBunting: but that's being used in a how clause. I think the question may have been: "Is it possible to say 'he can have been there' as a complete sentence"? Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 13:38
  • Can you please fix your question?
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:31

2 Answers 2


While you might be able to invent a sentence where you can argue that can have is valid, the short answer to your question is No. Choose either could have or might have.

  • In the COCA corpus are a few examples like "I don't know how this can have happened." and "There is no way he can have known the location of the safehouse without the help of the inside." Note that both of these sentences involve negation. With can + been + negation, it is typically "can't have been", but sometimes the negative meaning appears somewhere else: "or as in Berneta's case in the photo taken when she can have been barely fifteen" (i.e. she can't have been more than fifteen).
    – nschneid
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 3:55
  • Negation wasn't part of the question, and it is different. For example, "He can't have known that!" is perfectly fine. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 3:39

Correct: It could have been Bill's note.

Correct: It might have been Bill's note.

Incorrect: It can have been Bill's note.

We can use 'cannot have' or 'could not have' when we think a past event was impossible.

It cannot have been Bill's note. or It could not have been Bill's note.

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