past tense of can

used in auxiliary function in the past
We found we could go.
, in the past conditional
We said we would go if we could.
, and as an alternative to can suggesting less force or certainty or as a polite form in the present
If you could come, we would be pleased.

Examples of could in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Thousands of women could receive additional benefits if the Legislature passes the bill. James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, 5 Feb. 2023 The Natural History Museum took possession of the animal's remains, prompting swift condemnation by tribal leaders who feared P-22′s body could be taxidermized and put on display. Stefanie Dazio, ajc, 5 Feb. 2023 Domestically, President Joe Biden hosted Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House to discuss a possible deal on the debt ceiling; experts warn delaying an increase in the debt limit could spell economic disaster. Phillip M. Bailey, USA TODAY, 5 Feb. 2023 That could put the property on track to surpass numbers for 2022, its best year since opening in 2017. Blane Bachelor, CNN, 4 Feb. 2023 Animals that were trapped inside a barn during a fire in Prospect could not be saved, despite efforts by rescuers and bystanders, fire officials said. Taylor Hartz, Hartford Courant, 4 Feb. 2023 Hassen used the opportunity to suggest that the model could be replicated, perhaps to help inner city youth, with help from the federal government. San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Feb. 2023 On the same day he was reintroduced to fans at the Dodgers’ FanFest event at Chavez Ravine on Saturday, infielder Miguel Rojas also ensured his return to Los Angeles could last at least a couple of seasons. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, 4 Feb. 2023 Should the knee be required to be drained, that could diminish such immediate interest. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 4 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'could.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English couthe, coude, from Old English cūthe; akin to Old High German konda could

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of could was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near could

Cite this Entry

“Could.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


kəd How to pronounce could (audio)

past of can

used as a helping verb in the past
we found we could go
we said we would go if we could
and as a polite or less forceful alternative to can
could you do this for me

More from Merriam-Webster on could

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