Today we will take a look at the modal verbs could have sầu, would have sầu and should have. These past tense modals are useful for expressing your present feelings about a past decision (or other action).

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Could have, would have, should have are sometimes called “modals of lost opportunities.” They work lượt thích a grammatical time machine. The simple past just tells what happened. Past modals tell what could have, would have, and should have happened.

To size these past modals, use could, would, or should followed by have, followed by a past participle verb. Use have for all pronouns; never use has or had khổng lồ khung a past modal. Here are some examples:

She could have gone to any college she wanted khổng lồ.

I would have sầu gone to lớn the buổi tiệc ngọt, but I was tired.

He should have told the truth about what he saw.

Each of these modals has a slightly different meaning. We’ll look at each of them using examples from movies and popular songs.

Could have

We’ll start with could have. Could have means that something was possible in the past, but it did not happen.

I could have sầu gone directly lớn college, but I decided to lớn travel for a year.

Listen khổng lồ this tuy vậy by 1980s teen pop star Tiffany. The singer is thinking about past possibilities with her lost love.

Could have been so beautiful

Could have sầu been so right

Could have sầu been my lover

Every day of my life

Native sầu speakers often bởi vì not pronounce their past tense modals as clearly as Tiffany. Could have been usually gets contracted lớn could’ve sầu been or even coulda’ been.

Listen to lớn Marlon Branbởi vì in the classic film “On the Waterfront.” Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, was once a promising young boxer.

“You don’t underst&. I coulda’ had class. I coulda’ been a contender. I could have been somebody—instead of a bum.”

To form the negative with these modals, use not between could have. Could not have means that something was impossible in the past. For example:

She could not have been on that flight because I just saw her at work.

Defense lawyers often use could not have to argue for a client’s innocence.

A popular compliment in English is, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” You can say this when you lượt thích the way sometoàn thân said something. It is a way to lớn show strong agreement.

Would have

Let’s move on lớn would have.

Would have is a bit more difficult because it has two comtháng structures. The first is with but. I would have A, but I had khổng lồ B. Use this structure to show that you wanted to vày something in the past, but you could not.

I would have sầu called, but there was no phone service.

I would have loaned you the money, but I didn’t have any.

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Would have also forms the result clause of a past unreal conditional. For example:

If I had known they were vegetarians, I would have made a salad.

You can always reverse conditional sentences. If would have comes first, there is no comma.

I would have sầu made a salad if I had known they were vegetarians.

Past unreal conditionals are very complex; you can learn more about them on a previous episode of Everyday Grammar.

Usually, would have suggests a bad feeling about the past. But not always. In this tuy nhiên by the bvà Chicago, the singer is surprisingly happy that his ex-girlfriend cheated on hyên. Her infidelity gave sầu hyên the opportunity lớn meet someone else. And that someone else turned out to lớn be his true love sầu.

If she would have been faithful

If she could have sầu been true

Then I wouldn’ta been cheated

I would never know real love

I would"ve missed out on you

Should have

Finally, let’s look at should have sầu. Should have means that something did not happen, but we wish it had happened. We use should have khổng lồ talk about past mistakes. A worried mother might say:

“I was so worried about you. You should have sầu called!”

Should have is common in apologies. For example:

I’m sorry that I’m late for work. I should have woken up earlier.

You might remember Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forrest Gump. In the movie, Dan loses both of his legs in the Vietphái nam War. He would have sầu died, but Forrest saved him.

Listen for should have as Dan confronts Forrest.

“You listen to lớn me. We all have a destiny. Nothing just happens. It’s all part of a plan. I should have sầu died out there with my men. But now I’m nothing but a cripple!”

Should have can be used in a light-hearted way. In this tuy nhiên, country singer Toby Keith imagines how exciting his life would be if he had chosen to be a cowboy.

I should’ve sầu been a cowboy

I should’ve learned khổng lồ rope & ride

Wearing my six-shooter

Riding my pony on a cattle drive

I couldn’t have sầu said it better myself. As you can see, these modals of lost opportunities offer a colorful way lớn talk about past choices.

That’s all for this week. Join us next week for more Everyday Grammar.

I’m John Russell.

And I’m Dr. Jill Robbins.

​Now it"s your turn. Leave sầu us example sentence. What is something you could have / should have sầu / would have done in the past?

Adam Brock wrote this article for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.



Words in This Story

modal verbn. a verb (such as can, could, shall, should, ought khổng lồ, will, or would) that is usually used with another verb lớn express ideas such as possibility, necessity, and permission

contendern. a person who tries khổng lồ win something in a game or competition

bum n. a person who is lazy or who does something badly

compliment – n. a comment that says something good about someone or something

vegetariann. a person who does not eat meat

infidelityn. the act or fact of having a thắm thiết or sexual relationship with someone other than your husbvà, wife, or partner

confront v. to lớn oppose someone, especially in a direct and forceful way

cripple n. a person who cannot move or walk normally because of a permanent injury or other physical problem

six-shootern. a kind of gun (called a revolver) that can hold six bullets (often used to lớn describe guns used in the old American West)