A word on Grammar: Is there a difference between Can and Be able to?

We use “able” especially in the structure be able +infinitive. This often has the same meaning as can. The negative form is unable.

  • Some people are able/can walk on their hands
  • I am unable/can’t understand what she wants

Can is preferred in the sense of “know how to” and in expressions, like can see, can hear..etc

  • Can you knit? / I can see a ship

Be able is used in cases where can is not grammatically possible (future/present perfect, conditional…)

One day scientists will be able to find a cure for cancer (NOT… will can find)


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