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Example 1

She does not speak English. How did you communicate with her?

Example 2

She does not speak English. How could you have communicated with her?

What I am trying to say is that it was unlikely they were able to communicate with each other. I want to make it sound like a rhetorical question.

What are the differences?

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    I don't think She does not speak English Stack Overflow how could you have communicated with her? is a rhetorical question in your context. It's certainly not like She does not speak English [therefore] you couldn't have communicated with her, could you? Aug 5, 2023 at 16:52
  • 2
    Why do you want it to sound rhetorical? Do you not want them to answer? "How could you have communicated with her?" sounds like you're looking for an explanation, so it's not really rhetorical. If you really don't want a reply, say, "She does not speak English. There is no way you could have communicated with her." In English, rhetorical questions are normally used in speeches and essays. Most rhetorical questions it's actually possible to answer if you have the chance - it's the fact that they're delivered to a passive audience that makes them rhetorical.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 5, 2023 at 22:36
  • The problem is the verb "communicate". Perhaps if you used "speak" instead, and as part of your dramatic context said something like "You speak English and English only. She speaks Russian and a little French. How could you possibly have spoken with her?"
    – TimR
    Jan 13 at 2:43

2 Answers 2

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"She does not speak English. How did you communicate with her?"

In this sentence, the speaker knows that the listener did in fact communicate with the person to whom "her" refers, in the past. The speaker asks how that occurred, and expects that it should not have.

"She does not speak English. How could you have communicated with her?"

This sentence uses a conditional ("negative third conditional") to speak about a hypothetical event. The speaker knows that the listener did not communicate with the person to whom "her" refers, in the past. The speaker is likely asking a rhetorical question in this sentence. They likely do not expect an answer, but expressing that the believe there was no way for the listener to have communicated with "her".

If they wanted to ask in a way that expected an answer, they might instead say:

"How might you have communicated with her?"

or

"How do you think you could have communicated with her?"

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  • Please explain your downvote so the answer can be improved.
    – BadZen
    Aug 5, 2023 at 20:18
  • ""She does not speak English. But you are telling me that you got to know each other. How could you have communicated with her?" In this case, i am also expressing my disbelief, right? Is it a rhetorical question?
    – vincentlin
    Aug 6, 2023 at 8:49
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If, by "rhetorical question", you mean that you don't expect a good answer to be possible, you would use your second question, which expresses skepticism on your part:

She does not speak English. How could you (possibly) have communicated with her?

It's as if you're calling the person deluded or at the very least saying they are stretching the truth: Did you resort to gestures or draw pictures? You certainly didn't speak English with her.

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