Mary Sanders was a successful artist.

Before she died, ---

a) she could do practice

b) she had better take photos

c) she has won several awards

d) she could draw many pictures

The answer is supposedly d) but I have serious doubts. First of all "she could draw many pictures" may have various meanings. In order to be the correct answer we have to take for granted that "could" is here the past tense of can. On the other hand, "could" may also refer to the present and the future. We can read the sentence also as; "Before she died, she might draw many pictures" (as a suggestion). In this case the sentence would be incorrect because it would be irrelevant with the beginning sentence "Mary Sanders was a successful artist." It would sound as if we suggested her to draw pictures before she died and the sentence would be absurd. I think that neither of the choices are correct or could we say that c), althouh looking grammatically incorrect, may be true hence a person might continue winning awards after her death. "Before she died she has won several awards and she still does"(which would fit the "having a conneciton with the present" rule of the Present Perfect Tense.) I think that it is confusing to put a sentence which conveys more than one meaning as a choice.

  • 2
    ’d’ is the only grammatically correct answer there. So independent of any possible meanings of ‘could’ it is the only viable choice.
    – Jim
    May 3, 2015 at 19:27
  • 4
    It's the only viable choice but it's a horrid one. Where is this question? It's terrible
    – Catija
    May 3, 2015 at 21:01
  • Sigh I have (and am having) a lot of trouble with these incorrect questions. But in your case, the possibility of perceiving other meanings from 'd' doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong. But yeah...Welcome to the unfair part of the world.
    – M.A.R.
    May 4, 2015 at 14:41
  • 1
    What is your question? You have successfully ranted about d) is ambiguous, but not that it is incorrect.
    – Ast Pace
    May 5, 2015 at 16:20
  • Sounds like something from exercises for schools. I'm wondering what such exercises are good for? Just wasting time?
    – rogermue
    Jun 14, 2015 at 0:09

1 Answer 1


Let's go through these in order.

Using answer [A]:

Before she died, she could do practice.

This answer is using a 'do' where none is required. Using the 'do' as a verb typically applies when there isn't a verb there that could fit, such as in:

She could do her work.

Here, however, there is a verb— 'practice'— and so the 'do' is unnecessary. This isn't the right answer.

Now [B]:

Before she died, she had better take photos.

This is a tense mismatch! 'Take' is not in past tense, and the presence of 'had better' (slang for 'should') places this half of the sentence right into something that could occur in the future. This isn't the right answer.

And [C]:

Before she died, she has won several awards.

Tense mismatch again. 'Has' (present tense) would be 'had' (past tense) if this was the correct answer, which it isn't. Alternately, 'has' would be omitted entirely, and 'won' would be the past-tense verb.

Finally, [D]:

Before she died, she could draw many pictures.

By elimination, this is correct. It still is somewhat of an unusual sentence ('could' leaving us in doubt as to whether she drew many pictures or not), but it is the only phrase that has no outright grammatical errors.

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