Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English homepage

Language: Old English
Origin: cuthe, past tense of cunnan ( CAN1); influenced by should and would

could

modal verb
     
could S1 W1 negative short form couldn't
1

past ability

used as the past tense of 'can' to say what someone was able to do or was allowed to do in the past:
By the time she was eight, she could read Greek and Latin.
In those days you could buy a box of cigars for a dollar.
Could you hear what I was saying?
I couldn't get tickets after all, they were sold out.
I knew I couldn't afford the rent.
The teacher said we could all go home.
2

possibility

a) used to say that something is possible or might happen:
Most accidents in the home could be prevented.
It could be weeks before we get a reply.
If you're not careful, you could get into even worse trouble.
A faulty connection could easily (=would be likely to) cause a fire.
b) used to say that something was a possibility in the past, but did not actually happen:
Somebody could have been killed.
I could have warned you if I had known where you were.
He could have escaped, but he chose to stand and fight.
3

emphasizing your feelings

spoken used to emphasize how happy, angry etc you are by saying how you want to express your feelings:
He irritates me so much I could scream.
I was so angry I could have killed her.
I was so relieved I could have kissed them all.
4

requesting

spoken used to make a polite request:
Could you help me with these boxes?
Could I have a drink of water, please?
How about Sam? Could he come along too?
I wonder if I could just ask you to sign this.
5

suggesting

used to suggest doing something:
You could ask your doctor for a check-up.
You could always try phoning her at the office.
Maybe we could get together sometime next week?
Couldn't you get one of your friends to help you?
6

annoyance

spoken used to show that you are annoyed about someone's behaviour:
You could have told me you were going to be late (=you should have told me but you did not)!
You could at least say that you're sorry.
How could you be so stupid!
7

couldn't be better/worse/more pleased etc

used to emphasize how good, bad etc something is:
Their lifestyles couldn't be more different.
'How are things?' 'Fine! Couldn't be better.'
Ordering on-line couldn't be simpler.
8

I couldn't

British English spoken used to politely say that you do not want any more food or drink:
'Would you like another piece of pie?' 'Oh, no thanks, I couldn't.'
9

could do with something

spoken to need or want something:
I could do with a hot drink.

➔ could do worse (than)

at worse1 (5)

➔ couldn't care less

at care2 (5)

➔ couldn't agree more

at agree (1)

Dictionary pictures of the day
Do you know what each of these is called?
What is the word for picture 1? What is the word for picture 2? What is the word for picture 3? What is the word for picture 4?
Click on any of the pictures above to find out what it is called.

Explore our topic dictionary