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When do you use to be able to?

 

Does it substitute for can, in which tenses?

For learning: English
Base language: English
Category: Other

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    If can be used in place of 'can' in any tense. It is more formal in speaking and more eloquent in writing.
    He couldn't figure it out. = He wasn't able to figure it out.
    He couldn't catch a flight fast enough to make it here. = He wasn't able to catch a flight...
    I can't swim. = I'm not able to swim.
    I can't go because I'm not well. = I'm not able to go because I'm sick.
    I can't meet you this weekend. = I won't be able to meet you..
    I can't graduate if I don't pass this class. = I won't be able to graduate if...

    Here is something super important for you to remember:

    IF we are talking about what happened IN A PARTICULAR SITUATION, we use "was / were able to." NOT "could."

    a. The fire spread through the building quickly, but everybody WAS ABLE to escape.

    (NOT: "could escape.")

    P.S, The NEGATIVE "couldn't" is OK: "Sadly, they couldn't escape."

    Credit for this information goes to: Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy. (The sentence "Sadly, they couldn't escape" was my idea; ALL the other information is Mr. Murphy's.)

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