Can we use couldn't to talk about present and past ? Does the meaning change?

(A) I'm locked here and I couldn't open the door can you help me? (Present)

(B) yesterday I couldn't open the door so I broke it. (Past)

Are these sentences correct??

If yes , you mean we can use couldn't to talk about both past and present disability or impossibility??

How can we understand that it is about past or present if there was no time expression??


2 Answers 2


The sentence (A) isn't correct grammatically.

"I couldn't open the door" is in the past. As a matter of fact, you are locked in and unable to open the door at the present time. So the correct sentence should be:

I am locked in here and cannot open the door. Can you help me?

The second sentence (B), which is in the past, is correct grammatically. Could is the past of can.

  • What about "I'm locked here and couldn't open the door even if I tried"? Is that grammatically OK? Think subjunctive. Oct 4, 2015 at 13:32
  • Victor Bazarov, It's OK. It's clearly in the subjunctive mood.
    – Khan
    Oct 5, 2015 at 3:04
  • And the original A (which you called incorrect) cannot be in subjunctive? Oct 5, 2015 at 11:58

usually could can be used for wishing in a sentence like "I could have a pet" we can say the second sentence is correct but the first one is not pretty okay! for present(if we just want to use can as its own meaning) we can use Can

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