3

I need your help. Which one of these two sentences is more accurate?

1. Extreme rain can cause the river to flood the city

or

1. Extreme rain could cause the river to flood the city

1

Both sentences are grammatically correct but they have different senses.

"Extreme rain could cause the river to flood the city".

In the sentence the auxiliary verb "could" conveys two senses as follows:

  • Could is the past of can. The sentence means that it was possible or likely that extreme rain might cause the river to flood the city.

  • Could is also used to express possibility in the present and future. Here it means it's possible that extreme rain may cause the river to flood the city.

"Extreme rain can cause the the river to flood the city".

We can use "can" to express a general fact i.e. something that usually, but not always, happens. Extreme rain usually, not always, causes the river to flood the city.

3
  • 1
    I would say that the sense of "could" being past tense, while morphologically true, is very weak. If the speaker wanted to clearly talk about this as something in the past, they would say "could have". The sense of potential/possibility is the strongest.
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 10 '15 at 23:40
  • ldoceonline.com/dictionary/could
    – Khan
    Jan 11 '15 at 0:41
  • @A.Ellet, I appreciate your comments. Agreed.
    – Khan
    Jan 12 '15 at 4:04
3

Extreme rain could cause the river to flood the city

This sentence expresses the flood risk from an extreme rain as a (real) possibility.

Extreme rain can cause the river to flood the city

This sentence expresses the flood risk from an extreme rain as a known fact.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.