Be Able to

This page will teach you how to use be able to. Although this phrase is not an actual modal verb phrase, it is used in a similar way to can and could. The phrase, be able to, can be used to describe both general and specific ability. The great thing about it is that you can use it in different tenses.

The basic structure for be able to is:

Subject + be + able + to + infinitive
Present Simple
Affirmative

We use the following structure with affirmative statements:

Subject be (main verb) able (adjective) to + infinitive
I ‘m / am able to work / to do / to see / etc.
He/She/It ‘s / is
You/We/They ‘re / are

He’s able to hold his breath underwater for 3 minutes.

My friends are able to go without sleep for 2 nights.

Negatives

We use the following structure with negative statements:

Subject not be (main verb) able (adjective) to + infinitive
I ‘m not / am not able to work / to do / to see / etc.
He/She/It ‘s not / isn’t / is not
You/We/They ‘re not / aren’t / are not

Jody isn’t able to come to the party on Friday.

I’m not able to tell a lie.

* NOTE: You can use unable instead of not able.

She isn’t able to talk.

She is unable to talk.

Questions

We use the following structure with questions:

Be (main verb) subject able (adjective) to + infinitive ?
Am I able to work / to do / to see / etc. ?
Is he/she/it
Are you/we/they

Is she able to come with you to the cinema?

Are you able to get what you want?

Past Simple
Affirmative

We use the following structure with affirmative statements:

Subject be (main verb) able (adjective) to + infinitive
I/He/She/It was able to work / to do / to see / etc.
You/We/They were

They were able to get a good discount.

She was able to meet them dispite the problems she experienced.

Negatives

We use the following structure with negative statements:

Subject be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/He/She/It wasn’t / was not able to work / to do / to see / etc.
You/We/They weren’t / were not

We weren’t able to go due to bad weather.

He wasn’t able to pass his driver’s test.

Questions

We use the following structure with questions:

Be (main verb) subject able (adjective) to + infinitive ?
Was I/he/she/it able to work / to do / to see / etc. ?
Were you/we/they

Were you able to get what you were looking for?

Was he able to find the place without any problems?

Future Simple
Affirmative

We use the following structure with affirmative statements:

Subject will be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/You/He/She/It/We/They ‘ll / will be able to work / to do / to see / etc.

They will be able to import the product into their country without any problems.

Janice will be able to get you from the airport on Saturday.

Negatives

We use the following structure with negative statements:

Subject will not be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/You/He/She/It/We/They won’t /will not be able to work / to do / to see / etc.

Bethy said that she won’t be able to come because she’s busy.

Their partner won’t be able to to commit to such terms in the agreement.

Questions

We use the following structure with questions:

Will subject be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive ?
Will I/you/he/she/it/we/they be able to work / to do / to see / etc. ?

Will he be able to find the place?

Will you be able to come next week?

* NOTE: It is also possible to use Going to instead of will.

She will be able to visit us this weekend.

She is going be able to visit us this weekend.

Present Perfect Simple
Affirmative

We use the following structure with affirmative statements:

Subject auxillary verb be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/You/We/They ‘ve / have been able to work / to do / to see / etc.
e/She/It ‘s / has

DARPA has been able to make the world a smaller place because of the internet.

We‘ve been able to cut taxes within the past four years.

Negative

We use the following structure with negative statements:

Subject auxillary verb be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/You/We/They ‘ve not / haven’t / have not been able to work / to do / to see / etc.
He/She/It ‘s not / hasn’t / has not

We haven’t been able to locate the documents.

He hasn’t been able to get in touch with her al day.

Questions

We use the following structure with questions:

Auxillary verb subject be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive ?
Have I/You/We/They been able to work / to do / to see / etc. ?
Has He/She/It

Has he been able to find the source of the problem?

Have you been able to finish those reports I asked for?

Past Perfect
Affirmative

We use the following structure with affirmative statements:

Subject auxillary verb be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/You/He/She/It/We/They ‘d / had been able to work / to do / to see / etc.

He wishes he had been able to see them in cocert.

She had been able to find cheap airline tickets before we went on holiday.

Negative

We use the following structure with negative statements:

Subject auxillary verb be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive
I/You/He/She/It/We/They ‘d not / hadn’t / had not been able to work / to do / to see / etc.

They were upset with themselves because they hadn’t been able to make it to the train station on time.

He had not been able to

Questions

We use the following structure with questions:

Auxillary verb subject be

(main verb)

able

(adjective)

to + infinitive ?
Had I/You/He/She/It/We/They been able to work / to do / to see / etc. ?

Had they been able to make a copy of the file prior to its removal from the server?

Had he ever been able to Thailand before that?

*Note: This structure is often used with Third Conditional and Mixed Conditional structures.