What is the difference in meaning between these two phrases?

not as effective as it could have been

not as effective as it could be


not as effective as it could have been

This is referring to an event that occurred in the past. An event happened and its effectiveness was sup-par. For example:

Napoleon's efforts at Waterloo were not as effective as they could have been.

As for your other phrase:

not as effective as it could be

This contains the possibility of future effectiveness. A demonstration of the effectiveness has obviously been conducted, and the speaker has decided that improvements in the process could be made so that it is more effective in the future. For example:

The bug spray isn't as effective as it could be. I'm sure the research lab can make it kill bugs more quickly.

  • Thank you @WendiKidd. It is clear now. I gather you speak English as a first language. For a native speaker - how does it sound when a non-native speaker makes a mistakes with a phrases in the question? Which one sounds more wrong - if one would mistakenly say "... could have been" instead of ... could be or other way around - should have said " ... could be" but actually said "... could have been" ?
    – Mitten
    May 31 '13 at 9:32
  • 1
    @Mitten From the context, a native speaker would be able to understand what you mean, even if you don't use the correct tense, especially in a case like this.
    – apaderno
    May 31 '13 at 10:58
  • I presume that the native speaker would be able to understand a phrase based on the context. My question was more about which of these two incorrect uses would need more thinking from the native speaker.
    – Mitten
    Jun 1 '13 at 1:26

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