Translation of 'could'

FrankC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Translation of 'could'

Another problem area! 'Je pouvais' or 'Je pourrais' ? I often get this wrong ! The sentence is as follows: "Then, my wife asked me if I could give her the movie time schedule." I believe that I have seen 'could' translated by both the imperfect and the condional tenses. How do I determine which is appropriate?
Asked 1 month ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Frank,

Take a look at my response to another student to the same question -

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/questions/view/pourrais-vs-pouvais-in-the-text-above

 

Hope it helps!

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I'm not sure that answers the question, Cécile. I agree that in most cases you can select the correct word using that logic, but the problem here is that you can't tell whether the English is a past tense or a conditional. It's a question of reported speech, but we don't know whether the wife said "Can you give me the movie time schedule?", or "Could you give me the movie time schedule?" ( a conditional of politeness). When reported, "can" and "could" will both become "could". In French, the distinction will be clear, but which to choose? Both answers seem correct to me.

CécileKwiziq team member

I see your point, Alan, but wouldn't the English have been for the conditional ?

Then, my wife asked me if I would be able to give her...

 

???

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

No, "would you be able to give me" is unidiomatic, and would be taken literally. It would suggest a real uncertainty about whether it was possible. The use of "can", or "could", as with "pouvoir", is simply about politeness. The possibilities are: "Can you give me X?", "Could you give me X?" or "Would you give me X". The last two are both conditionals, I would say.

The English text could have been: "my wife asked me if I would give her the movie time schedule", but it wasn't and we have to translate the sentence given. Both pouvais and pourrais seem to be valid translations, differing only in levels of politeness.

MaartenC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I don’t think the question ‘should’ be what it ‘could’ be translated to, it is what it ‘ would ‘ be translated to in French. The spontaneous answer from my wife is ‘ si je pouvais ‘ as, regardless of whether this is reported speech or not ‘ si je pourrais ..’ doesn’t sound right to her in French  - the conditional following ‘ si ‘ grates.

AlanC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I don't quite understand the distinction you're making between "could" and "would". I think the question is whether it's a reasonable translation that someone fluent in both languages might make.

As far as I know, the conditional after si is perfectly acceptable when it's an interrogative.

https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/fr-je-voulais-vous-demander-si-je-pourrais-pouvais-arriver-conditionnel-imparfait.3799036/ 

https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/il-ma-demand%C3%A9-si-je-pouvais-pourrais.2676251/

Translation of 'could'

Another problem area! 'Je pouvais' or 'Je pourrais' ? I often get this wrong ! The sentence is as follows: "Then, my wife asked me if I could give her the movie time schedule." I believe that I have seen 'could' translated by both the imperfect and the condional tenses. How do I determine which is appropriate?

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