I've been putting together a lesson on modal verbs. I was wondering whether there is a difference between could and was able to in the following sentence:
I ______ play tennis when I was younger.
(could, was able to)
Even if there is a slight difference, please point it out.
Last edited by billmcd; 30-Sep-2011 at 14:55. Reason: typo
I've been putting together a lesson on modal verbs.
ONLY A NON-TEACHER'S OPINION
(1) I cannot answer your question.
(2) You probably already know this, but just in case that you do not, I wish to remind
you of what Raymond Murphy reminds us in his Grammar in Use:
We use could for general ability. But if we are talking about what happened in a
particular situation [my emphasis], we use was/were able to or managed to (not
The fire spread through the building quickly, but everybody was able to escape/ managed to escape. (not could escape)
BUT he reassures us that the negative couldn't is fine in all situations:
Ted played well, but he couldn't beat Jack.
If I heard "I could play tennis when I was younger..." I would expect it to be followed by something like "...but then I broke my leg in three places and couldn't play any more".
If I heard "I was able to play tennis when I was younger..." I would expect something like "because there were plenty of courts near my house. However, I never got around to playing".
Thank you for your answer(s) in advance.
PS: I've numbered my questions in order to make them easy to refer to. (But the main question is, why do we say, "...that I could help you", when referring to a particular situation. Or is it just a rule of thumb to use "to be able to"/"managed to" when referring to a particular situation?
Mav: Thank you, dear Jed, for your excellent and instructive answers. Now it's all clear.
fivejedjon: You're welcome. I'm glad that... ??? (...I could help you. OR ...I was able to help you. ) What would you say in a situation like this? (Assuming you were glad and were willing to express that. )
As for my other sentence (and sorry for being slightly off-topic), I THINK that "I'm glad to have been able to help you." is absolutely correct (It must be correct. ), but is it natural in an everyday conversation? And finally, what about, "I'm glad to have been able to be of help to you."? I don't much like it, but still, I think it's correct.
Last edited by ~Mav~; 01-Oct-2011 at 07:33.
[QUOTE=~Mav~;806376]I am aware of this rule (and I happen to have that excellent book on hand ), but I wonder then why we say (by "we", I mean that it seems to be rather common), "I'm glad that I could help you", when we usually mean that I was able to help you in a particular situation.
ONLY A NON-TEACHER'S OPINION
(1) Of course, I was fascinated by your fantastically intriguing discussion with Teacher Fivejedjon.
(2) A thought has just come to my mind. May I throw it out for your consideration?
(3) Mr. Murphy does write "If you mean that someone managed to do something in
one particular situation." I am thinking that he is referring to some negative situation.
One of his example sentences is: They didn't want to come with us at first, but we
managed/ were able to persuade them.
(4) Thus, when you say to someone "I'm glad that I could help you," that seems to
stress a positive situation. (Something like "My pleasure!")
What say you?