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Imagine person A and person B are talking to each other.A tells B about what person C said to A. A uses the same sentences what C said but A could not understand what C meant exactly.Now B knows what C said to A. B have some idea or guess what C meant but B is not sure either.So B makes some guesses based on what C said.

I'd like to ask how B should start his sentence when he makes guess about what C meant?

B says to A:

1.C could mean...

2.C could have meant...

3.C may/might mean...

4.C may/might have meant...

5.C would have meant...

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    Either 2 or an adapted 4:C may/might have meant .. Oct 13, 2015 at 20:26
  • @StoneyB do you think if there is a difference between them and I have also added another option
    – Mrt
    Oct 13, 2015 at 20:29
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    The forms without the 'perfect' past marker imply that C still 'means' whatever it is. 5 implies certainty - it's equivalent to must have meant. Oct 13, 2015 at 20:54

2 Answers 2

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C could mean... is present tense, but B is referring to something that happened in the past.

C could have meant... is a valid option for what B is trying to convey. The use of the word "could" indicates possibility and capability, as well as some uncertainty on B's part.

C may/might mean... is present tense again.

C may/might have meant... is a valid option for what B is trying to convey. The use of the words "may" or "might" indicates possibility, as well as greater uncertainty on B's part.

C would have meant... would indicate certainty on B's part as to what C meant, as mentioned in StoneyB's comment.

For more information on word choice with could/may/might, you may wish to refer to these posts: “Might have” vs “could have”
“It could/might/may be funny” — what is the correct usage?

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B is not sure and he guesses/assumes. He can say..."C could have meant.." According to the level of possibility, we can change the modal verb. For less possibility - might. For much possibility - could. It is up to B's guess/assumption.

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