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Could is used to talk about past ability in general. We do not normally use "could" to say that somebody managed to do something on one occasion. But with certain verbs like to see, hear, taste, feel, smell, understand, remember etc., "could" can be used for particular occasions as well. Ex- Suddenly I could hear a loud noise. I could smell something burning.

Is it an appropriate use of "could" with certain verbs. If yes then is there some other certain verbs as well exist?

  • I don't think it's exceptional. Could you name some verbs that you believe can't be used that way? – Jim Apr 26 '13 at 5:15
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The difference is in the function of the verb "could", not in the verbs it is paired with.

Using "could" to say someone managed to do something is using it as a modal verb. This use as a modal verb expresses the probability (chance of something happening).

Compare this to the usage of "could" in your other example sentences.

Suddenly I could hear a loud noise.
I could smell something burning.

In theses sentences, "I could" is simply being used as the past tense of "I can."

Edit:

use of "be able" to specify the specific past occasion like "He was able to speak French to the policeman to explain what had happened". Use of could in this context is inappropriate

Using "was able to" in that sentence is valid. However, I would not say that "could" is inappropriate for that sentence. Consider for example if I changed the sentence slightly to this:

He could speak French fluently enough to explain to the policeman what had happened.

This is perfectly valid as well.

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  • use of "be able" to specify the specific past occasion like "He was able to speak French to the policeman to explain what had happened".Use of could in this context is inappropriate – Satyam Apr 26 '13 at 10:01

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