Dictionary > English Dictionary > Definition, synonym and antonym of could
Meaning of could by Wiktionary Dictionary


    Alternative forms

    • cou’d ( obsolete )


    From Middle English coude, from Old English cuþ, preterite form of cunnan ( “to be able” ). The addition of the silent 'l' was likely a misappropriation attempting to normalize with modal verbs will/would and shall/should. However, while the letter l was historically pronounced in the latter two, can never did have an l sound in it .


    • IPA: /kʊd/, X-SAMPA: /kUd/
    • Rhymes: -ʊd



    1. Simple past of can.
      1. Used as a past indicative .
        Before I was blind, I could see very well .
      2. Used as a past subjunctive ( irrealis ) .
        I think he could do it if he really wanted to .
        I wish I could fly!
    2. Used to politely ask for permission to do something .
      Could I borrow your coat?
    3. Used to politely ask for someone else to do something .
      Could you proofread this email?
    4. Used to show the possibility that something might happen .
      We could rearrange the time if you like .
    5. Used to suggest something .
      You could try adding more salt to the soup .

    Derived terms

    Related terms

    See also

    • Appendix:English tag questions



Definition of could by GCIDE Dictionary


  1. Can v. t. & i. [The transitive use is obsolete.] [imp. Could] [OE. cunnen, cannen ( 1st sing. pres. I can ), to know, know how, be able, AS. cunnan, 1st sing. pres. ic cann or can, pl. cunnon, 1st sing. imp. cūðe ( for cunðe ); p. p. cūð ( for cunð ); akin to OS. Kunnan, D. Kunnen, OHG. chunnan, G. können, Icel. kunna, Goth. Kunnan, and E. ken to know. The present tense I can ( AS. ic cann ) was originally a preterit, meaning I have known or Learned, and hence I know, know how. √45. See Ken, Know; cf. Con, Cunning, Uncouth.]
    1. To know; to understand. [Obs.]

    I can rimes of Robin Hood. Piers Plowman.

    I can no Latin, quod she. Piers Plowman.

    Let the priest in surplice white,

    That defunctive music can. Shak.

    2. To be able to do; to have power or influence. [Obs.]

    The will of Him who all things can. Milton.

    For what, alas, can these my single arms? Shak.

    Mæcænas and Agrippa, who can most with Cæsar. Beau. & Fl.

    3. To be able; -- followed by an infinitive without to; as, “I can go, but do not wish to”.

    Syn. -- Can but, Can not but. It is an error to use the former of these phrases where the sens requires the latter. If we say, “I can but perish if I go,” “But” means only, and denotes that this is all or the worst that can happen. When the apostle Peter said. “We can not but speak of the things which we have seen and heard.” he referred to a moral constraint or necessety which rested upon him and his associates; and the meaning was, We cannot help speaking, We cannot refrain from speaking. This idea of a moral necessity or constraint is of frequent occurrence, and is also expressed in the phrase, “I can not help it.” Thus we say. “I can not but hope,” “I can not but believe,” “I can not but think,” “I can not but remark,” etc., in cases in which it would be an error to use the phrase can but.

    Yet he could not but acknowledge to himself that there was something calculated to impress awe, . . . in the sudden appearances and vanishings . . . of the masque De Quincey.

    Tom felt that this was a rebuff for him, and could not but understand it as a left-handed hit at his employer. Dickens.

  2. Could ( k??d ), imp. of Can. [OF. coude. The l was inserted by mistake, under the influence of should and would.] Was, should be, or would be, able, capable, or susceptible. Used as an auxiliary, in the past tense or in the conditional present.