Thursday, April 14, 2011

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Well I was teaching today and the class couldn’t have gone better!

Oh!  That’s a difficult piece of language: “couldn’t have gone better”.   You might ask, ‘what does that mean?’  Well let’s look at it in two parts:

“gone better”
This is from the phrasal verb, “go well” which means if something is a success.  You want some examples?
“My IELTS speaking test went really well!  I think I probably got a 9.0!  Really, it couldn’t have gone better!”
“Portsmouth beat Manchester United 4-0!  What a result!  It was a brilliant game!  It couldn’t have gone better for Portsmouth!”

“couldn’t have”
This is the part that tells us it was basically perfect.  Think about it like this.
“It was a good party and it went well.”  (It was 80% but it wasn’t 90% or 100%)
“It was an excellent party and it couldn’t have gone better.”  (It was 100% and there is nothing better than 100%)

Okay.  Are we happy with this?  I will assume the answer is yes.  But how do you say it?  If you want to sound natural you certainly don’t say “it… couldn’t… have… gone… better”.  No, we say it like this:

“it couldn’t have gone better”
“it couduntav gonebetta”
“it cudunav gonbeda”
“it cuduna gonbeda”
“i cudunagonbeda”

These are NOT the spellings but how you should say it.  For those of you who know your phonetic alphabet, it looks like this:


For these more difficult grammar points (this is a present perfect modal of speculation or deduction) I think it is more important to know how to say it and use it than to understand the grammar of it.

You see the words, you see the context, you hear the sounds, and you produce!  Let’s look at some others:

“James had a job interview this morning but I saw him at lunch time and he looked pretty down.” (*pretty down = very sad)
“Oh dear, his interview couldn’t have gone well.”

Do you remember how to say it?  Practise the phrase five times before you continue reading.  Okay.  Let’s change the sentence.

“Oh dear, his interview must have gone badly.” 

Don’t worry, this sentence means almost exactly the same as the previous sentence.  But how do you say it?  How about this:

“must have gone badly”
“mustav gon badly”
“musta gon badly”
“musdagon badly”

In the phonetics, this ‘musdagon’ looks like this (well, it looks like this when I say it):


Okay.  I've done most of the work now.  I will leave you with a few situations and a few phrases.  See if you can see what the words are and build the sentence because I will only give you the modal + have + past participle (e.g. must + have + gone).  The situations and the speculations are in the same order.

Maria looks really tired.
Michael’s face looks bruised.
Benjamin isn’t here.
Andrew’s iPhone is missing.
Kathleen and I were talking on Skype but she suddenly disappeared.

cudabeen = /cʊ̈dəbi:n/
mayabeen = /meɪʌbi:n/
mydamist = /maɪdʌmɪst/
mydaleft = /maɪdʌleft/
cudalost = /cʊ̈dəlɔst/

Good luck.  Let me know if it goes well for you.  Now with all the examples you saw, all the times you repeated those words and sounds, you have a lot of those necessary 75 times.  :-)

As always, I look forward to your comments.


P.S.  Remember, if you are interested in learning more about the phonetic alphabet then go here where you can select the sounds and listen to examples.  Or just click here to download the small program onto your computer.

P.S.S.  I’m reluctant to put links to this song because American Country & Western music is NOT my cup of tea.  However, if you want to hear some examples of “couldn’t have”, you might want to listen to Johnny Duncan’s ‘It Couldn’t Have Been Any Better’.  If you want more reading practice then simply try doing a Google search for “couldn’t have gone better” or “must have gone badly” to see how people use it.  Alternatively, try the British National Corpus.


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