I did a test and made a mistake. I wrote:

"My dog could have jumped very high when he was younger."

The right sentence was:

"My dog could jump very high when he was younger."

When I was making the sentence I was thinking that people usually say "You could have told me!", there is some action and it is in the past–the same for the dog. Could you explain me what is wrong?

  • 1
    The first sentence begs the continuation: but he didn't because of his short legs...
    – mplungjan
    Jun 20, 2013 at 8:53
  • 2
    actually Graduate if I had been your teacher I would have complimented you for your attempt to be more adventurous with the language. It is an irony of sorts that the more you study and learn the more mistakes you will make. Upper-intermediate students will write longer, better compositions or answers than the the elementary ones, but they will also tend to make more subtle mistakes. It is part of the process of learning and mastering any skill.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 20, 2013 at 9:13
  • Question: Is the first sentence grammatically incorrect or wrong context? Shouldn’t you already know/seen that your dog could/couldn’t jump that high since you are talking in the past tense? Jun 20, 2013 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


The past form of can is normally could (when you use it in the sense of ability to do something):

John can read. He's four years old.

When talking about the past, you would say

John could read when he was four years old.

When you say that something could have happened, it means that it almost happened. It could have happened, but it didn't.

For example,

You could have died!

means it was possible for you to die, but luckily you didn't.

  • 2
    Quite right; so My dog could have jumped very high when he was younger means he could have, but he didn't, while My dog could jump very high when he was younger means he could and did do so. :) +1!
    – WendiKidd
    Jun 21, 2013 at 0:00
  • 1
    The first could also have meant that the dog could jump high but the speaker never witnessed it
    – horatio
    Jun 21, 2013 at 19:12

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