Can I advise someone by saying:

Practice it as much as you could

Instead of:

Practice it as much as you can

And what about:

I'll try it as much as I could

Whatever it may refer to. Sorry for not giving more context. It's been a while since I thought about the situation where I could have used those phrases. However, you can always think of any popular situations where you can use them.

1 Answer 1


When you are asking someone to practice, you are talking about the present and future, so you use the present tense:

Practice as much as you can between now and Thursday.

When the person tells you about their practice habits, they can use "can" if they're talking about the present:

I practice as much as I can, but I work two full time jobs, so that's not very much.

If they're talking about the past, rather than the present, then they use the past tense, "could."

Since our last lesson, I practiced as much as I could, but since my tuba was held up in customs until today, that wasn't very much.

  • I understand what you are saying, but can "as much as you could" be used in the present as, say, a polite way? Can it not be correct under any scenario?
    – learner
    Nov 24, 2014 at 20:55
  • Perhaps I can never say "I'll try it as much as I could", but I feel I can use "as much as you could" in a formal register??? how far I can use "could" is a bit tricky for me.
    – learner
    Nov 24, 2014 at 20:58
  • 1
    "Could" with a present tense verb can sometimes be used as a suggestion, but usually in a different phrasing--"If you could, please try to practice this." It would be awkward and somewhat stilted in most dialects (especially in American English) to say "Please practice as much as you could." On the other hand, "Please practice, if you could" is more acceptable.
    – chapka
    Nov 24, 2014 at 21:09
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    @learner "As much as you can" is a turn of phrase and only works idiomatically with the word "can." It's like saying "I'm really in a cucumber [instead of pickle] now..." Yes, it's correct, but that's simply not how the phrase goes. "Could" and "can" have an odd relationship. "Could you... ?" and "can you ...?" as questions both mean the same thing, but "can you" would be considered less formal or even a little crass. "Could" like the other -ould words, also refers to the future, although it may not seem like it since the future is just as often the "imperceptibly near future" (the present).
    – Crazy Eyes
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:30
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    There doesn't need to be an omitted question. In that scenario, business deals take a variably long amount of time to close. The use of "couldn't" means that "when the time comes, we can't agree to this." (The appropriate "time" being, say, when the CEO hears about it, or something) There is an understanding that agreements like this are never made on the spot. "We can't agree to this." is presumptuous because it assumes you're the one in charge of the company. "I'm afraid we couldn't agree to that." means you are not actually sure that the company wouldn't agree to it, but you believe so.
    – Crazy Eyes
    Nov 25, 2014 at 16:08

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