Ты мог слышать об этом.

I’m having a little trouble understanding this…why is this present tense + infinitive in Russian but it is translated “you may have heard…” and not “You could hear about that.”?

мог is actually past tense! The present would be можешь. So it’s kind of literally like “you were able to hear about this”, which is pretty close, right?


Ahh yes, I get it now. The internal logic of this is pretty unlike English though. I think this has to do with the extra information communicated in past tense by the distinction мог/смог…i.e. because it is “мог” there is more uncertainty.

So like the literal meaning is “You were able to hear (but may or may not have actually carried through on that potential.)” Thus “You may have heard.” is a more accurate translation. Because we don’t have the perfective/imperfective distinction we use the word “may” to communicate the uncertainty.

In English if you say: “You were able to hear…” or “You could hear…” then there is an implication (or judgement) that if the person DID not hear the thing, that there was some personal failure on their part (perhaps an error or oversight, or they were distracted, etc.)