could

[ koo d; unstressed kuh d ]
/ kʊd; unstressed kəd /

verb

a simple past tense of can1.

auxiliary verb

(used to express possibility): I wonder who that could be at the door. That couldn't be true.
(used to express conditional possibility or ability): You could do it if you tried.
(used in making polite requests): Could you open the door for me, please?
(used in asking for permission): Could I borrow your pen?
(used in offering suggestions or advice): You could write and ask for more information. You could at least have called me.

Nearby words

  1. cough reflex,
  2. cough syrup,
  3. cough up,
  4. coughlin,
  5. coughlin, charles edward,
  6. couldn't,
  7. couldn't care less,
  8. couldst,
  9. coulee,
  10. coulibiac

Origin of could

Middle English coude, Old English cūthe; modern -l- (from would1, should) first attested 1520–30

Can be confusedcould should would (see usage note at should)

Usage note

See care.

can

1
[ kan; unstressed kuh n ]
/ kæn; unstressed kən /

auxiliary verb, present singular 1st person can, 2nd can or (Archaic) canst, 3rd can, present plural can; past singular 1st person could, 2nd could or (Archaic) couldst, 3rd could, past plural could.

verb (used with or without object), present singular 1st person can, 2nd can or (Archaic) canst, 3rd can, present plural can; past singular 1st person could, 2nd could or (Archaic) couldst, 3rd could, past plural could; imperative can; infinitive can; past participle could; present participle cun·ning.

Obsolete. to know.

Origin of can

1
before 900; Middle English, Old English, present indicative singular 1st, 3rd person of cunnan to know, know how; cognate with German, Old Norse, Gothic kann; see ken, know1

Can be confusedcan may shall will (see usage note at the current entry) (see usage note at shall)

Usage note

Can1 and may1 are frequently but not always interchangeable in senses indicating possibility: A power failure can (or may ) occur at any time. Despite the insistence by some, that can means only “to be able” and may means “to be permitted,” both are regularly used in seeking or granting permission: Can (or May ) I borrow your tape recorder? You can (or may ) use it tomorrow. Sentences using can occur chiefly in spoken English. May in this sense occurs more frequently in formal contexts: May I address the court, Your Honor? In negative constructions, can't or cannot is more common than may not : You can't have it today. I need it myself. The contraction mayn't is rare.
Can but and cannot but are formal and now somewhat old-fashioned expressions suggesting that there is no possible alternative to doing something. Can but is equivalent to can only : We can but do our best. Cannot but is the equivalent of cannot help but : We cannot but protest against these injustices. See also cannot, help.

can

2
[ kan ]
/ kæn /

noun

verb (used with object), canned, can·ning.

Origin of can

2
before 1000; Middle English, Old English canne, cognate with German Kanne, Old Norse kanna, all perhaps < West Germanic; compare Late Latin canna small vessel

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019


British Dictionary definitions for could

could

/ (kʊd) /

verb (takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive)

used as an auxiliary to make the past tense of can 1
used as an auxiliary, esp in polite requests or in conditional sentences, to make the subjunctive mood of can 1 could I see you tonight?; she'd telephone if she could
used as an auxiliary to indicate suggestion of a course of actionyou could take the car tomorrow if it's raining
(often foll by well) used as an auxiliary to indicate a possibilityhe could well be a spy

Word Origin for could

Old English cūthe; influenced by would, should; see can 1

can

1
/ (kæn, unstressed kən) /

verb past could (takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive) (intr)

used as an auxiliary to indicate ability, skill, or fitness to perform a taskI can run a mile in under four minutes
used as an auxiliary to indicate permission or the right to somethingcan I have a drink?
used as an auxiliary to indicate knowledge of how to do somethinghe can speak three languages fluently
used as an auxiliary to indicate the possibility, opportunity, or likelihoodmy trainer says I can win the race if I really work hard

Word Origin for can

Old English cunnan; related to Old Norse kunna, Old High German kunnan, Latin cognōscere to know, Sanskrit jānāti he knows; see ken, uncouth

xref

See may 1

can

2
/ (kæn) /

noun

verb cans, canning or canned

Word Origin for can

Old English canne; related to Old Norse, Old High German kanna, Irish gann, Swedish kana sled

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for could
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with could

could

see can (could) do with; see with half an eye, could. Also see under can; couldn't.

can

In addition to the idioms beginning with can

  • can do with
  • canned laughter
  • can of worms

also see:

  • as best one can
  • before you can say Jack Robinson
  • bite off more than one can chew
  • carry the can
  • catch as catch can
  • game that two can play
  • get the ax (can)
  • in the can
  • more than one can shake a stick at
  • no can do
  • you can bet your ass
  • you can lead a horse to water
  • you can say that again
  • you never can tell

Also see undercan't.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.