The ancient Maya Kingdom once occupied a vast area in Central America. ...... Looking at its ruins, it is hard to imagine how such a society _________ .

a. could have collapsed
b. could collapse
c. could have been collapsed
d. could be collapsed

Which is the best of the answers? I think 'a' is.
Are there any better answers?

Original Post
In this case, "could have" is not hypothetical. The writer is saying that it is hard to imagine how such a collapse was actually possible.

We have "how" + "could have" + a past participle to indicate that that something happened and we are wondering how such a thing was possible:

He left her? They had a perfect marriage! How could he have left her?

I don't know how I could have failed that test! I studied so hard, and I thought I answered everything correctly. But...I did fail it.

I can't imagine how the thief could have entered the house. All the doors and windows were locked! But....he did. And he stole jewelry and money.

My choice is the first that came to mind, as explained in my previous posting. This context – or my first thought about this context – refers to the question of which scenario actually caused the Maya Kingdom to collapse.

I do think that b) would be a possibility in an appropriate context. The context would be a general reference to collapsed societies like the Maya Kingdom; in that case, one could say "could collapse" – it would be hard to imagine how any society like this could collapse.

As well, "collapsed" could be used, although it is not one of the choices. If "how such a society collapsed" is used, then the reference is to the fact of the collapse, not how the collapse came about, which is the case with "could collapse" and "could have collapsed."


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