capable of and able to

Discussion in 'English Only' started by macta123, Sep 29, 2006.

  1. macta123 Senior Member

    English is my second language! But, I have never given a thought to the fixed prepositons certain verbs take! Now, when I am learning French, I came to see that they use it a lot Verb + a certain fixed preposition.

    So my question is " Capable of " is more or less similar to " Able to "
    So why different prepositions?

    Thanks in advance
  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Capable of writing.
    Able to write.
    I have no idea why that should be, but it is.
    I can't for the moment find any difference between them, but others will provide, I'm sure.
  3. baz259 Senior Member

    english england
    Hi, could it be,
    I am able to write/I have the knowledge.
    I am not capable/I am injured
    Or vice versa.
    Barry .
  4. Razor Member

    Russian Federation/Russian
    As regards your question, look below:
    -One man is able to destroy the whole world WRONG
    -One man is capable of destroying the whole world RIGHT
    If someone is able to do something, they can do it and it is not unusual or surprising if they do it: 'The doctor said that after a few years I'd be able to get out of bed'. 'Will you be able to play on Saturday?'
    If someone is capable of (doing) something, they do not usually do it, but it is possible for them to do it if they want to: 'I'm sure he's quite capable of getting here on time, but he can't be bothered'. 'The power station is capable of generating enough electricity for the whole region'

    From 'The Writer's Guide to Prepositions' by Charles N. Prieur & Elizabeth Champion Speyer:
    Usage examples for ABILITY:
    -His ability at chess was exceptional
    -His ability with darts was a byword in every pub in England
    Usage examples for CAPABLE:
    'Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom' (Benjamin Franklin)
    'Stem cells are capable of generating an endless supply of red cells platelets' (Peter Radetsky, 'Discover' mag.)

    Note. If someone has the ability to experience something or act in a particular way:
    I think he's capable of loyalty and seriousness.
    Bowman could not believe him capable of murder.
    CAPABLE of is also used when talking about machines and technical equipment:
    ..water turbines, which are capable of producing more economical electricity.
    The car was capable of 110 miles per hour.

    By employing able or capable in reference to someone's character, we suggest that specialized knowledge, qualifications are required to perform a specific task or job. In this respect, these words behave in a semantically neutral way (semantic neutralization > lexical synonymy) and the difference is barely visible:

    ...the able and methodical Kin Charles V of France.
    This very able man totally failed to see the possibilities of the telephone.
    Newborn babies are more capable than was once thought.
    Well, you certainly have a capable gardener there.

    Using capable, we can quite confidently foresee that an event or action is going to happen soon or it is very likely that a job will be done:
    Workers are perfectly capable of running the organizations which employ them.
    She was quite capable of dropping off to sleep.
  5. MissFit

    MissFit Senior Member

    Capable is followed by the preposition of and a gerund/participle.

    Able is followed by an infinitive. When you say able to write, the word to is not a preposition. It is part of the infinitive to write.
  6. MissFit explains the grammar, but the usage can also be a little different. "Able to" is the more generic and all purpose phrase and connotes ability. "Capable of" can mean that, but is frequently more indicative of propensity. For example: He is able to commit larceny (but so are most of us). But if I say he is capable of larceny, then I mean not only that he could, but that he would do it. Not a hard and fast rule, just an observation...
  7. kuba kuba Senior Member

    Hi, I'm trying to figure out the differences, partly I have but there is something that still is not clear for me, so please, what is the difference in meaning in the following sentences?

    He is an able cook.
    He is a capable cook.

    I understand the difference in sentences like:
    He is capable of speaking in public. (= he has the ability to do it, he is not afraid, he is not nervous or tongue-tied in public, he simply knows how to do it well or he is experienced in the area)
    He is able to speak in public. (= others allow him to do it, there are no problems that would stop him from doing that, he is not injured or ill so he can do it)

    Thanks Kuba
  8. DonnyB

    DonnyB Senior Member

    Coventry, UK
    English UK Southern Standard English
    The definitions given in Oxford Dictionaries are:
    able = having considerable skill, proficiency, or intelligence
    capable = able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent

    So I would say that "able" implies a higher level of skill and proficiency than merely "capable": an able cook is a better cook than a capable one. :)
  9. kuba kuba Senior Member

    Thank you, so if I got it right, then it should be like this:

    You are capable of better work than this. (=I know that you know to work better.)
    You are able to work better than this. (=The same meaning?)
    Now, when you have a shovel, you are able to work better than before. (=You might have done the best or not, with shovel your work can be even better.)

    Her capability of handling stressful situations is unbelievable. (=She is gifted at handling stressful situations, it is one of her natural features)
    He needs to improve his ability to handle stress situations. (= He is not very good at it and needs a bit practice so he can improve this ability (not capability)).

    Carlos is very able in kitchen. (= he is a great cook)
    Carlos is very capable in kitchen. (= he can handle cooking and he does there some things intuitively)

    Please check the sentences - they should match the explanations in brackets, if not, please tell me why not.
    Thank you very much indeed.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  10. Messquito

    Messquito Senior Member

    台灣台北 Taipei, Taiwan
    Chinese - Taiwan 中文 Taiwanese Hokkien 臺語
    In my opinion, able to is different from capable of.

    When you say "A is able to do B", it means that A can actually complete B.
    So, in order to actually have it done, first, A has to have the ability or means to do it. Second, "conditions should permit when A does it".
    As a result, even if you are a good cook, without some suitable cookware, you are not able to cook well, because the conditions does not permit(there's no good cookware).
    In short, "able to" suggests that you can have it done when you are actually going to do it.

    When you say "A is capable of B", you are actually telling us that B is a feature of this person A. You are talking about A's specialty/characteristic.
    You expect that A is going to succeed in doing B if conditions permit.
    In other words, you only take A's capability into consideration but never the situations when A does it.
    So as you say this, you are not sure if A could in fact complete B when he actually does it, because "capable of" never suggests that the "conditions permit".
    It is not about actually going to do it, but rather just something that A has in himself. So we can delete "to".
    As to why it is "of", we should look at how we use "of". First, when you look it up in the dictionary, you would find that it means "belonging to", "relating to".
    When we say "the A of B/ A is of B", it either suggests that A is a part(body-part/feature) of B or B is a part of A, for example, He is a man of wealth./I'm the director of the company./Snapping fingers is a habit of my English teacher.
    As a result, when you say "A is capable of B", you could perhaps say it in other words, as in, "B is a feature/characteristic of A".

    Let me give you a short example to clarify it:
    I was capable of (getting) a good result on that test, but I wasn't able to (do it) because I slept in and missed the first 30 minutes of it.
    In short,
    A be able to B=A can have B done when he is actually going to do B
    A be capable of B=B is a capability of A

    Just my non-native view.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2015

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