A friend sent me a quote which was written by an unknown writer. We both had trouble understanding its meaning. My friend said to me jokingly-

"The writer didn't mention his name, otherwise we could ask him directly."

I wonder if this use of "could" is correct here or not. As far as I'm aware, "could have" is used for lost opportunities of the past. Here, we are talking about a lost opportunity which was lost due to an event that didn't happen in the past (The writer mentioning his name). I'm confused whether "could ask" should be used here or "could have asked" should be used instead. Please help. Also, if it is possible to use both, what is the difference in meaning, if any?

1 Answer 1


"Could ask" is used for opportunities in the present.

"Could have asked" is used for opportunities in the past.

But it is the time of the opportunity not the conditional event it is dependent on. So if it is possible to ask the writer now, if he had mentioned his name in the past, then "could ask" is correct. The opportunity to ask is in the present. If it would only have been possible to ask in the past, even if you knew the name, then "could have asked" would be correct.

  • It's an unreal event though. Do we use "could have asked" or "could ask" to describe a present unreal opportunity? Like, with the meaning, "The writer didn't mention his name, otherwise we would now be able to ask him directly."
    – gotube
    Jun 20, 2023 at 18:53
  • Like I say in the answer, if the opportunity is in the present then it's "could ask". Jun 20, 2023 at 19:59

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