warningsignShould have - Could have

When it comes to modal verbs in the past tense, English is a lot more limited than Spanish. For this reason, English speakers have difficulty differentiating between the meanings in Spanish.


Could have 

Could have + participle can be used to talk about 3 different scenarios:

1. Something that was possible, but we don't know if it happened (speculation - instead of might)

2. Something that would have been possible if something had been different (conditional)

3. Something that was possible at the time, but didn't happen for whatever reason (possibility in the past)


 John could have finished it yesterday

1. John might have finished it (speculation)

2. John would have been able to finish (if things had been different)

3. John had the opportunity to finish it but didn't, for whatever reason

1. John puede/podía/podría haberlo terminado (quizá lo haya hecho)

2. John podría haberlo terminado (si las cosas hubieran sido distintas)

3. John podía haberlo terminado (pudo terminarlo pero no lo hizo)



Should have 

Shoud have + participle can mean three different things:

1. Something that we expect has happened, but we don't know for sure (speculation)

2. Something that was supposed/expected to happen, but for some reason it hasn't

3. Something that, in retrospect, would have been a good idea to do, but for some reason didn't happen

 John should have finished it by now

1. Unless there has been some problem, John will have finished it

2. John hasn't finished it, but he was supposed to

3. John hasn't finished it, but it would have been good if he had

1. John debería de/tendría que haberlo hecho ya (según lo previsto ya lo habrá hecho)

2. John debía/tenía que haberlo terminado ya

3. John debería/tendría que haberlo terminado ya


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