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Consider these sentences, please:

1) A: Where is John?
B: He could be in the market. 

2) It could be dangerous to cycle in the city. 

3) Working in London next summer could be a great experience.

The three "coulds" in 1), 2) and 3) are very similar, because:

a) They look exactly the same.

b) They all mean "possibility."

c) They can all be replaced by "might."

d) They are all "tentative."

Q1) Are they completely same?

Q2) If not, how does a native speaker of English differentiate among the three "coulds", which have so much in common?

Original Post

Hi, Language learner,

What makes you think they are in any way different?

From a pedagogical point of view, the first "could" (example 1) could be used by teachers to explain different degrees of certainty to express deductions in reply to a question like the one you proposed.

1) A: Where is John?
B: He could/might be in the market.
B': He may be in the market.
B'': He should be in the market.
B''': He must be in the market.

Hi, Language learner,

What makes you think they are in any way different?

 

Because, to me, the second and third coulds sound like they are the results of some conditions. For example:

2) If you cycled in the city, It could be dangerous.

3) If we worked in London next summer, it could be a great experience. (sounds like a suggestion to me)

Whereas, the first could is different in that respect.

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