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  1. englishhobby's Avatar
    Key Member
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • Russian
      • Home Country:
      • Russian Federation
      • Current Location:
      • Russian Federation

    • Join Date: Jun 2009
    • Posts: 1,765
    #1

    were able to speak / could speak perfect French

    Here's a sentence with a missing word.
    When they came back from Paris they ............. speak perfect French.


    As far as I understand from some grammar textbooks, we can't use could here, because it happened on one occasion, it is not general ability.
    So the sentence should be like this:
    When they came back from Paris they were able to speak perfect French.

    Am I right?
    If I were a native speaker of English, I would never shut up. :-)

  2. Piscean's Avatar
    VIP Member
    Retired English Teacher
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      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • Europe
      • Current Location:
      • Czech Republic

    • Join Date: Jul 2015
    • Posts: 13,691
    #2

    Re: were able to speak / could speak perfect French

    'Could' is fine. It refers to general ability rather than to something that was possible on one occasion.

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