This expression is used to express anger or surprise at someone's action.
If somebody does something that is horrible or shocking, then we can use this sentence pattern to express anger or disbelief.
This question is usually a rhetorical question. It is not necessary to actually answer this question and the speaker is usually not asking for an answer. How could you + verb...?
Remember that "could" is the past tense form of "can". So, this question is always referring to some action in the past.
- How could you eat the whole box of cookies?
- How could you lie to me?
- How could you be so mean to her?
- How could you forget my birthday?
- How could you say that?
- How could you not like that movie?
- How could you betray us?
- How could you deal with that?
If we are surprised or angry at a 3rd person's action then we can change "you" to another person or organization.
- How could he leave without saying goodbye?
- How could Mark say those mean words to Alice?
- How could they treat people so badly?
- How could he be so greedy?
- How could the company fire him?
- How could the government do that?
There are many times when we use this expression to show surprise. We are not angry at all.
Bonus Tips and Points
- How could you eat all of the cookies by yourself?
- How could he finish all of the work by himself?
- How could you know that?
- How could he watch TV for 18 hours in a row?
- How could they not know that?
1. We often use the short form of this question when responding to what somebody said. When we use it this way, it is usually used to show anger and surprise.
A) I'm sorry, but I forgot to feed your fish while you were on vacation and they died.
B) How could you?
A) She stole her cousin's boyfriend.
B) How could she?
This is also often used in a sarcastic way. In other words, we are speaking like we are angry, but we are not actually angry. We are just joking.
A) I forgot to bring your book today.
B) How could you? I'm just joking. Don't worry about it. Just bring it tomorrow.
2. We can make a very similar sentence using the present perfect tense.
Real-World English Conversations
- How could he have finished all of his work already?
- How could they have known that?
- How could she have not been prepared for her presentation?
- How could he have done that?
- How could he have killed five innocent people?
A) How could you eat that whole pizza by yourself?
B) I'm sorry. Did you want some?
A) My boss called me an idiot today.
B) How could he do that? He doesn't sound like a good boss.
A) How could they give their dog away? It was so cute.
B) I guess the dog was very bad. It destroyed a lot of things in their house.
A) I see. I guess that makes sense.
A) Mrs. Yellen was arrested last week.
A) She was stealing a lot of money from the organization she worked for.
B) Didn't she work for a charity that helps poor children?
B) Oh my gosh! How could she do that? Use these free English lessons to learn the most common sentence patterns in the English language. If you learn these sentence and questions well, it will help you speak English well. Study the lessons thoroughly, practice making your own sentences, and come back to review often. If you do these three steps, your English speaking will improve quickly and you will be able to have natural English conversations.