Could (Modal Verb Series) - Podcast Episode 25

Welcome to episode 25 of The English Sessions. Could (Modal Verb Series). I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.

You can also read the transcript of this audio on the website, as you listen to this episode.

This episode is a request, from Ania. Before we begin, I want to update everyone about the podcast. We have made it to episode 25! There are new Get the Word! episodes coming, and plenty of material made just for the Patreon page. ( ). Also, there are listeners from so many countries now!! (High percentage in Indonesia - discuss). What is confusing for you about English?

Listen for these words today:
Nasty - “Nasty” describes something that is very unpleasant, especially to the senses. For example, “Mike, please take out the garbage. It has a really nasty smell”.  

“Sub” - today, I use ‘sub’ to describe a type of food. It is short for ‘submarine sandwich’. It’s a long sandwich that, I guess, looks like a submarine. There’s a good chance that you have eaten a sub. I know I have had many.

Let’s talk about the modal verb ‘could’. Remember, modal verbs are a special kind of verb that have special kinds of rules. Here is a list of the most common modal verbs in English: must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may, and might. They often are used to talk about necessity, possibility, or the future. Today, we will talk about the modal verb ‘could’.

First, I must explain something about modal verbs. As I said before, they are not normal verbs. They have special rules. Often, a modal verb does not have a past tense. However, ‘could’ is the past tense of the modal verb ‘can’. So let’s start with that.

Let’s use ‘can’ in a sentence. “Can” has several definitions, and is often just another way to say, ‘to be able to’. I can go. I am able to go. I can go to the party this weekend. Today is Friday. The party is on Sunday. So, I can go and I will go to the party this weekend. It’s going to be a lot of fun. But then, you remember that you made plans to spend time with your grandparents on Sunday!!! So, now it is Monday, and you did not go to the party. You were not able to go to the party. So, you say, “I couldn’t go to the party. I imagine that it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t go because I made plans with my grandparents”.

So, now you know, ‘could’ is sometimes used as the past tense of ‘can’. I couldn’t go to the party. Another example, “I am so glad that I left that hotel. Every night while I was there, I could smell cigarette smoke in the room. It was so nasty!”

“Could” also can be used to indicate possibility. Example, “are you sure that this mushroom isn’t poisonous, you could be wrong, you know?”. Or, this one, in a conditional structure, “If you get a better job, then you could start making more money!”.

Alright, the next use of ‘could’ is for polite requests. That’s right, the modal verb “may” is the more formal verb for polite requests, but you also hear ‘could’ and ‘can’ all the time. So, example, “could I use your bathroom?”. That’s right. “My toilet is broken. Could I use your bathroom?” or “May I use your bathroom?” or “Can I use your bathroom?”. Yes, all three are common in modern English for making a polite request. “Could I borrow your pencil for a moment?”.

So remember, ‘could’ is sometimes the past tense of can. However, most other modal verbs do not have a past tense. If you are interested in learning about how to talk about the past using modal verbs, email me. We will talk about it together.

Also remember, ‘could’ sometimes indicates possibility and ‘could’ is also used for polite requests.

After the break, I will talk about one more way to use the modal verb ‘could’.


I have one more important use to mention. Sometimes, we use ‘could’ when giving advice, or suggestions. Imagine that you have two options for lunch. It’s so hard to choose, either pizza for lunch, or subs for lunch. Hmmmmm, my friend says, “Mike, the pizza shop and the sub shop are next to each other. You could have a little bit of both!”. Good suggestion, friend. OR, here in the United States, sometimes I see a pizza sub on a menu!! The pizza sub is all of the common pizza ingredients in a submarine sandwich! Okay, I gotta go! I think it’s time for lunch. Hmm, perhaps I could order a pizza sub from Gus the Greek. I’ll have to check their menu first…

Any questions? Write to me at . Leave a message for me on the website, and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit for more content. Please rate and review The English Sessions on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Find us on social media. Twitter @theEsessions; Instagram @englishsessionswithmike; Search for The English Sessions on Facebook. Until next time, this is Mike signing off. 


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