I came across this page that teaches "could." https://www.englishpage.com/modals/could.html

The below example is from the page. I wonder whether "possibly" is a necessary element here to express future impossibility; because you see, if it is not there, it is a little unclear whether you are talking about the past ability or future possibility. However, all this is my guess. Can somebody shed some light on this?

Example 1

Mary couldn't (possibly) go to jail for the crime.

  • I don't think so. Possibly is helpful to give context in a list which is all about the use of could in different tenses. But I can easily think of other ways of expressing the future tense. (Mary has just been arrested and you say to me, "She couldn't go to jail, could she?") Sep 22, 2023 at 3:58

1 Answer 1


Your example has no context, being a made-up sentence in a list of made-up sentences. But if I imagine someone’s uttering the sentence in a real, natural conversation, the possibly would be included to emphasize the unbelievability of the idea. Along the lines of

Really? Mary? Thrown in jail? That’s not gonna happen. There’s no way they could send her to jail for the crime. She was in Finland when it happened.

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