English College - Grammar, Conversation, Tense and Aspect, Modality -

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2.2. The polite expression
The past tense of the modal auxiliary verb is also used to express the polite expression. The form is seen as the past tense, but it is derived from the past subjunctive mood, that is to say, the time point is the present.
If it is used in the interrogative sentence, it can ask the request and the permission. See the following examples.

(2)
a. Could I use your phone? Yes, you can.
b. Would you help us?

To answer, the present tense is used like (2a). "Yes, you could." is not used.

In the affirmative sentence, it expresses the suggestion.

(3)
a. We could meet again here tomorrow.
(We should meet here tomorrow.)
b. I would do that, if you are tired.
(I will give you a hand since you look tired.)

Now, this usage is also used for the irritation. See the following examples.

(4)
a. You might ask before you use my P.C.
(Tell me when you use it!)
b. Why couldn't she apologize?
(I do not know her feeling.)








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