A famous singer is being interviewed while shooting one of her music videos. In one scene, she actually jumps in a glass pool, which is supposed to be an aquarium in the video. Taylor's interview (see:10:33-10:43) After the reporter sees this scene completed, they hold an interview and she asks her:

The interviewer: Couldn't you just computer-generate this and not jump in?

Taylor: I don’t know. *(And to make sure, she turns to technical staff around and asks them the same question.) Couldn’t we have done this on a computer?

What drew my attention is that the reporter uses "could" for her question but Taylor uses "could have Past participle for the same question.

We know that "Couldn't you do this" and "Couldn't you have done this" have different meanings.

So, Taylor's using "could have past parcticiple" makes sense because that scene is now a past event. However the reporter was also there and saw the filming of the scene already finished. So why didn't she then just use the same correct structure "Couldn't you have done" but instead used "Couldn't you just.... "?

1 Answer 1


You're right, but people don't always use more complex verbal expressions in everyday speech.

Her "Couldn't you just ..." comes over to me as a general question, rather than referring to the particular take. It's like a suggestion for the future, rather than a question about the specific. Swift evidently takes it as a question about the specific, and answers with the complex form "could have".

Incidentally, her question was "Couldn't you just ...", not "Could not you just ..." as you said. "Could not you ..." is hardly ever used in modern English - the expanded form of "Couldn't you" is normally "Could you not".

  • That's an interesting point about the general versus the particular. As soon as I read the first sentence in your second paragraph, I thought *That's true - the interviewer isn't just opting for the simpler verb form because it's simpler. It also broadens the scope to other similar actual past and potential future contexts. Then when I watched the clip itself I had the clear impression Swift was deliberately distancing herself from the "general" question by switching to Present Perfect - alluding to just that immediately preceding occasion (which was down to her team, not "her" anyway). Aug 26, 2023 at 19:08
  • @FumbleFingers: I think you're probably right, though I doubt if the distancing was conscious.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 26, 2023 at 20:15
  • 1
    Yeah, I think this answer has it right. Asking "Couldn't you just..." isn't rewriting history (asking if things could have been done differently), it's presenting an alternate scenario (a separate, theoretical timeline, if you will) and inquiring whether that version of reality would arrive at the same result as the one that just occurred.
    – FeRD
    Aug 27, 2023 at 5:08

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