Quiz: Anyone who was shocked by the atrocities ought to ask himself what _____ to prevent them.

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Quiz: Anyone who was shocked by the atrocities ought to ask himself what _____ to prevent them.

  1. had they done
  2. they must have done
  3. they could have done
  4. did they do

The answer to the question is:
Anyone who was shocked by the atrocities ought to ask himself what they could have done to prevent them.
 
The modal verb “could” when used with “could have” is used to talk about something that could have happened in the past but it didn’t. It usually implies a sense of regret or criticism. For example:

  • She could have gone to college and been a successful lawyer but she made some bad decisions and is now in prison.
  • They could have saved the hostages but they took too long with the negotiations, the terrorists decided they were’t going to wait any longer.
  • You could have helped me with my assignment, I really needed your advice.
  • I could have missed the bus if I had stayed in the shop any longer.

 
“Could have” is also used to speculate about an event that didn’t happen in the past. For example:

  • If had paid more attention in school, I could have been a surgeon.
  • He could have been a professional football player if he hadn’t gotten injured.
  • We need to ask ourselves what we could have done to help that man but it’s too late now.
  • Anyone who was shocked by the atrocities ought to ask himself what they could have done to prevent them.

 
As you can see from the examples above, “could have” allows us to reflect or wonder what could have happened in the past if we had done things differently.
 
The sentence in the quiz “Anyone who was shocked by the atrocities ought to ask himself what they could have done to prevent them” is saying that people who were surprised by the incident should reflect on the events in the past and ask themselves what they could have done differently or sooner to stop the terrible event.

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