What could have happened? | Bangkok Post: learning

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What could have happened?

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We know what has happened, but we don't know what caused it. We all have our own ideas about the cause and express them freely. In English, this is a perfect opportunity to use the past forms of modal auxiliaries. 

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What could have happened?

The situation is a common. Something has happened. We know what has happened, but we don't know what caused it. We all have our own ideas about the cause and express them freely. In English, this is a perfect opportunity to use the past forms of modal auxilliaries.

Depending on our certainty, these forms might include could have, might have and must have – or the negative forms of each.

Unsolved mysteries are regular topics in our television news broadcasts and that is where you will often hear the forms mentioned above.

Here are some examples. Watch and listen to them and try to understand what could have happened in each case. You will see the full texts plus vocabulary explanations at the end.

mystery – something that is not explained or known สิ่งที่ไม่สามารถอธิบายได้, ความแปลกประหลาด, ลึกลับ

Bright lights over Norway

The first mystery involves strange lights scene over Norway. Listen to this 30-second news item and see if you can see what could have caused them. You can see the full text at the bottom of the page.

Hit and run

A “hit and run” refers to a vehicle hitting someone and, rather than stopping to help, the motorist drives away. Hit and runs are usually accidents, but was that the case here?

Watch the video and decide for yourself. You can see the full text at the bottom of the page.

Mystery launch

A missile is launched just of the coast of Los Angeles, California and no-one knows who launched it. Listen to what one expert thinks it could have been.

Mysterious boom

A “boom” is a large sound, like you would hear from an explosion. This is a story about a mysterious boom, preceded by a flash of light.  It is interesting because one women initially (at first) though she knew what it was.
Thus, instead of saying “could have been”, she said “must have been”. She was wrong, however.


Bright lights over Norway

Norwegian authorities are investigating strange lights in the Arctic sky. The spiraling white light was seen for several minutes Wednesday morning. Locals say the lights appeared to be bigger than the moon. Thousands of
Norwegians bombarded the Meteorological Institute to ask what that light could have possibly been. Some feared it could have been a meteor, others a black hole and there were even those who thought it could be aliens, but the defense experts in Oslo suggested it is more likely to have been a failed Russian missile launch from the area of the White Sea. I think a rocket went out of control and self-destructed. There’s been no official comment from the Russian military.

authorities – people who have the power to make decisions or enforce the law เจ้าหน้าที่ผู้มีอำนาจ
investigate – to try to find out the facts about something in order to learn the truth about it ตรวจสอบหาความจริง
spiral – to move in continuous circles, going upwards or downwards หมุนเป็นขด
bombard – to ask someone so many questions, give them so much information etc that it is difficult for them to deal with it all ระดม (คำถาม ความคิด คำวิจารณ์) เข้าใส่
meteorological – relating to the study and prediction of the weather เกี่ยวกับทางอุตุนิยมวิทยา
meteor – a piece of rock from outer space that makes a bright line across the night sky as it burns up while falling through the earth's atmosphere ดาวตก
missile – a flying weapon which has its own engine so that it can travel a long distance before exploding at the place that it has been aimed at ขีปนาวุธ
launch – sending something out, such as a rocket into the air or into space การปล่อย

Hit and run

Police in Wetter Park California have released video of a dramatic hit and run which they now say may have been deliberate. In the video a vehicle appears to swerve off the main road and directly into a man crossing a side street with his brother who runs after the fleeing vehicle. Police say they are now treating the incident as assault with a deadly weapon and release the tape seeking more information. The 20-year-old victim suffered significant but not life-threatening injuries.

dramatic – exciting and impressive ตื่นเต้นเร้าใจ
deliberate – done intentionally; done on purpose จงใจ ตั้งใจ
swerve – to change directions suddenly เปลี่ยนทิศทาง
flee – to leave a place or person quickly because you are afraid of possible danger หนี อพยพ
incident – something that happens, usually something bad เหตุการณ์
assault – attacking someone viol the vidently  การทำร้ายร่างกาย

Mystery launch

We’re now back to that mysterious missile launch. The bright light could easily be seen up in LA (Los Angeles) but tonight we’re still trying to figure out what it was. News 8’s Marcella Lee did some digging and joins us with just how tough it was to find an answer. Marcella:

Barbara Lee and Carlo, we put in a lot of calls to the navy and air force tonight about this, an incredible missile launch of the coast of LA around 5pm, but so far no one seems to know anything about this launch, so we showed the video to Ambassador Robert Elsworth, a former deputy secretary of defense to get his thoughts.

“It is spectacular. It takes people’s breath away.”

Who launched this missile and why remain a mystery for now.

“It is a big missile.”

These magnificent images were captured from the KCBS news helicopter in Los Angeles around sunset. The location of the missile: west of LA, north of Catalina Island and approximately 35 miles out to sea.

“You’re looking at the LA harbour…”

A navy spokesman tells News 8, this wasn’t their missile. He says there was no navy activity reported in that part of the region.

“And we have lift off….”

On Friday night, Vandenberg air force base launched this Delta 2 rocket, carrying the Thales Alienia space Italia Cosmos skynet satellite but the sergeant at the base tells News 8 there have been no launches since then.

“That’s a pretty big contrail.”

We showed to Robert Elsworth, former US Ambassador to Nato and a former deputy secretary of defense.
“It’s not a Tomahawk (missile).”

He said we should wait for definitive answers to come from the military, but when we asked him what he thought it could be…

“I’m just speculating

Elsworth said maybe, just maybe, with President Obama in Asia, this could have been a show of our military muscle.

“It could be a test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine, underwater submarine, to demonstrate, mainly to Asia that we could do that.”

Ambassador Elsworth says done in the Atlantic to demonstrate America’s power to the Soviets when it was the Soviet Union, but he doesn’t believe it’s ever been done over the Pacific, but again he emphasises that is just speculation and, as of tonight, it remains a mystery missile. Barbara Lee…

incredible – difficult to believe อย่างไม่น่าเชื่อ
spectacular – very exciting to look at; extremely impressive น่าตื่นเต้น ที่ตระการตา
take your breath away – to cause you to be very surprised ทำให้ประหลาดใจมาก
magnificent – very good, beautiful or deserving to be admired สง่างาม, ดีเลิศ, หรูหราฟู่ฟ่า
satellite – an electronic device that is sent into space and moves around the earth or another planet. It is used for communicating by radio, television, etc. and for providing information ดาวเทียม
contrail – a white trail of steam from an aircraft that is flying very high คอนเดนเซชั่นเทรล หรือคอนเทรล
definitive – final; not able to be changed; certain; considered to be the best of its kind and almost impossible to improve ที่สรุปขั้นสุดท้าย, ที่ตัดสินใจขั้นเด็ดขาด, ที่ไม่เปลี่ยนแปลง
speculate – to consider or discuss what might happen or might have happened คาดการณ์ อนุมาน
muscle – the power and influence to make others do what you want อำนาจ, อิทธิพล
intercontinental ballistic missile – a missile that can travel for very long distances, i.e., from one continent to another
submarine – a ship that can travel underwater เรือดำน้ำ
demonstrate – to show something clearly by giving proof or evidence  พิสูจน์, แสดงให้เห็นจริ
emphasise – to stress something such as an idea, fact or detail; to explain or show why something is important เน้น

Mysterious boom

Residents on both side of Narragansett Bay reported hearing what sounded like an explosion. Officials searched for a source all day but came up empty. From the East Bay mobile news room, Eye-witness reporter Shaun Daily is live in Barrington.

Susan, a frightening mystery has people talking tonight here in Barrington and all the way across the bay in Warwick, a loud mystery.

Whatever it was it got people’s attention around 11:30 last night both here in Barrington…

“A giant flash of light and about a second later a large boom, what I thought was an explosion of some sort.”

How loud?

“How loud? It was loud enough to make my whole house shake.”

And in Warwick.

Was it scary?

“Yeah, I mean I thought it …actually, I thought, Oh my God, it must have been a gas explosion and somebody’s house blew up that’s what it sounded like.”

The Coast Guard and multiple police and fire departments investigated. They even sent boats out on to Narragansett Bay, but the source of the flash of light and the loud noise remains a mystery.

“She heard a loud, a really loud, like it shook her house… loud noise.”

Lawrie Marshawn’s aunt heard it inside her home in Barrington. “She said it was so loud, she doesn’t have a clue as to how nobody can know what it was, what it is…because she said it shook the house.”

“Our neighbours came out of the house and their house had shook as well, so it wasn’t just like down in that area. This whole area shook.”

In a world of smartphones and google people get the answers to their questions these days right away, but tonight there are no answers, only questions.

residents – people who live in a particular area ประชาชนที่อาศัยในท้องที่
source – the cause of something – ต้นกำเนิด
catch attention – to cause people to notice something ดึงดูดความสนใจ
flash – something that shines very brightly for a short time แสงวาบขึ้นมา
shake (past form: shook) – to move or make someone or something move with short, quick movements  สั่น, สั่นสะเทือน, เขย่า
coast guard – a military organisation that watches for ships in danger and works to prevent illegal activities on the ocean ยามชายฝั่ง
investigate – to try to find out the facts about something in order to learn the truth about it ตรวจสอบหาความจริง
don’t have a clue – have no information about something; have no idea about something  นึกไม่ออกว่าใคร (อยู่เบื้องหลัง)

To further understand the past simple, read the chapter in Understanding English verb forms: Modal auxilliaries

You can find a full description of Understanding English verb forms here:


You can buy the book online here:



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