This English grammar lesson explains how to talk about ability
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Do you say, “I can speak English” or “I’m able to speak English.”?
Both of these sentences have the same meaning. But, ‘able to’ is more formal and less common.
These two examples are talking about present ability. Here are some more examples.
Jenny can/ is able to play tennis.
Henry can/is able to read.
To talk about ability in the future, we can only use “will be able to”
If I train enough, I will be able to run 5km.
Difference between future ability and future arrangements or plans
You need to understand the difference between future ability and future arrangements or plans. With future arrangements or plans we can use both ‘can’ and ‘will be able to’. Here are some examples:
I can help you tomorrow.
I’ll be able to help you tomorrow.
To talk about past ability (that is, abilities we don’t have now) we can use ‘could’ and ‘was/were able to’
When I was a kid, I could do a cartwheel.
When I was a kid, I was able to do a cartwheel.
But when we are talking about a specific event in the past, we only use was/were able to. For example:
I could finish yesterday’s assignment. WRONG!
I was able to finish yesterday’s assignment. CORRECT!
But – if it is negative – we can use both!
I couldn’t finish yesterday’s assignment. CORRECT!
I wasn’t able to finish yesterday’s assignment. CORRECT!
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