Because if that were true, that there’s a plan, it would mean there’s a reason I live in Cincinnati, Ohio and my son robs banks. I would have to believe that the only logical way for my life to go after the riots in 2001 was to dream-up a non-profit called InkTank, to encourage anybody who ever wanted to set things on fire to write down the deepest, most hidden part of their hearts. How could something so little and nothing (1), the act of getting people to pick up a pen and listen to each other, to start to notice things, how could that matter (2)? (Kathy Holwadel)

It seems that *could*s mean ‘#7.used to emphasize how strongly you want to express your feelings (OALD)’ or ‘#5.used in statements that express a strong emotional reaction (Merriam-Webster’s)’. Or the second might mean #4 on OALD or #2 on Merriam-Webster’s. Would you tell me which one do I have to pick up?

1 Answer 1


It's consistent with the first definition in either of those dictionaries.

[modal verb] 1 — used as the past tense of can ▪ How could something like this happen?

But yes, you're correct that it fits #4 in the OALD and #2 in M-W. It's all about possibility.

In your quotation, it's restated for emphasis, but the question is, basically:

How was it possible that something so little... matter[ed]?

The implicit statement here is that it's impossible (in the sense of difficult to believe) that a seemingly small alteration to someone's behavior could have any far-reaching, lasting effects.

“How could he?” Is a more common statement of a similar brand of disbelief.

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