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Imagine a husband says to his wife -after years of marriage- that he didn't like her all along ever since when they first met. So, the wife gets shocked and wants to ask how he married her. So, the wife asks:

- If you didn't like me when you met me, how the hell could you marry me?

(This structure seems like hypotethical structure, whereas they talk about a real situation, so I think this one won't work.)

So, should she have said:

- If you didn't like me when you met me, how the hell could you have married me?

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  • It might seem like a hypothetical, but could is also a past tense form of can (compare exclamations like How could you?!, etc.). Mar 15 at 16:59

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Yes well, she is obviously in a stressful situation, so she would be likely to say things that would not be considered "correct" in formal written English.

Her use of "how", for example. Surely she really wants to know "why". But "How" seems to be the kind of mistake that would be natural enough in spoken English.

Similarly "could" and "could have" probably aren't different enough to justify analysis. I don't see much difference in whether the situation is hypothetical or not. "Could have" is sometimes used for counterfactual constructions: "I could have married you, but I didn't" But that is not the case here. Both are just being used for the past tense.

If I wanted a more formally correct version, "...why the hell did you marry me?"

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  • so do you mean both "...could...." and "...could have ..." are all right?
    – Yunus
    Mar 16 at 7:52
  • Both equally bad, yes.
    – James K
    Mar 16 at 8:05

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