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ICAO Structure Level 5: Modals of Ability


ICAO Structure Level 5: Modals of Ability (Aviation English Coffee – June 1st 2020)

In this blog post I’d like to present modals of ability and explain how to use them properly in a certain context – past, present or future.  Everything I wrote here is available in a video format so take a look here if you want to see me explaining modals of ability below:

CAN & CAN’T PRESENT TENSE
General skills (or their lack) happening NOW:

  • I can pilot an Airbus A380. (I can do it now)
  • I can’t remember what Future Simple Tense is. (happens now)

COULD & COULDN’T PAST TENSE
General skills (or their lack) happened in the PAST:

  • Boeing could avoid payments related to the grounding.
  • I couldn’t write when I was 2. (I didn’t have that ability)

CAN & BE ABLE TO THE DIFFERENCE IN USE

Can and be able to mean the same, but we often use be able to when something is surprising or unusual.

Note that wasn’t/weren’t able to is more formal than couldn’t.

BE ABLE TO – PRESENT TENSE – AM/ ARE / IS
When we talk about something surprising or unusual is happening NOW:

  • These measures will remain in place for as long as is needed to ensure customers and crew are able to fly safely as the world continues to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. (BBC.com)

WAS / WERE ABLE TO PAST TENSE
When we talk about achieving something on a specific occasion in the past, we use was/were able to (= had the ability to):

  • By using real-world simulation of air circulation patterns, designers were able to determine which of their proposed ventilation layouts would be the most effective. (Fortune.com)

WILL BE ABLE TO FUTURE TENSE
General things happened in the FUTURE:

  • Passengers will be able to fly directly from Canberra to Byron Bay, with Canberra Airport expanding its operations to include flights into northern NSW. (CanberraTimes.com)

MANAGED TO PAST TENSE
When we succeeded in doing something difficult:

  • (…) each of these 17 airlines managed to make an impression on the industry, and on their passengers, before flying their final flights. (CNN.com)

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Emilia Barska
About me

General English teacher and Aviation English specialist. Devoting her free time to sharing her expert knowledge how to pass an ICAO exam with flying colors. She enjoys reading crime stories, listening to heavy metal music and sipping a vanilla latte.