What is the difference between able and capable? Is there a difference at all? These two words are very similar in meaning and very often we just can’t tell the difference, but let’s try to clear things out.
How to use ABLE
We normally use able to say that someone has knowledge, skills, intelligence, or opportunity to do something.
- Simona is an able runner. She runs ten kilometres every day.
- Do you think we’re able to prepare lunch for twenty people by ourselves?
- Once you move abroad, you must be able to immerse yourself in the local culture.
- Although it was dark outside, Ryan was able to see a man coming his way.
In case you use able in the past tense, then you are saying that you or somebody else did something.
- Since we were able to buy a better car, that’s what we did. (they bought a better car)
- Our daughter was able to read when she was four. (she read when she was four)
The preposition we use after able is TO:
- Their children needed much more than they were able to give them.
The opposite of able is UNABLE
- After having a stroke, Martin was unable to speak or move.
How to use CAPABLE
If you are capable of doing something then you have the efficiency, ability and quality to do it successfully.
- Simon has always been capable of taking care of his family.
- This car is capable of developing extremely high speed on the open road.
- He was a remarkable footballer, capable of beating any world-class player.
- Anna has been feeling sick all morning. I don’t think she’s capable of giving a presentation.
Remember that after capable goes the preposition OF + GERUND (-ing)
- Nina was quite capable of weighing up the calories in food with her eyes.
The opposite of capable is INCAPABLE
- Sarah was a person incapable of feeling other people’s pain.
However, keep in mind that the difference between the two words is very small and in some contexts, their meanings overlap.
- Mary was an able woman. She was a working single mother of four.
- Mary was a capable woman. She was a working single mother of four.
For further reference, you can think about this sentence, because it reflects the difference in meaning between able and capable:
- Everyone is able to play tennis but not everyone is capable of becoming the world champion.
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