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I've read in http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv196.shtml that we use was able to and managed to when we are talking about a particular situation or specific achievement.

My question: Are both was able/able to and managed/manage to interchangeable? Are both used in the same ways? Both are same in their meanings?

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Of the two, I think managed to implies more struggling or overcoming the odds.

He was able to run the race in less than 18 minutes.

This would suggest he could consistently finish in under 18 minutes whenever he ran this race.

He managed to run the race in less than 18 minutes.

This might suggest that he often ran the race in more than 18 minutes, but a few times he was able to finish in under 18 minutes.

This doesn't mean we couldn't use the first wording for the second situation, but I think it's less likely that we'd use the second wording to describe the first situation.

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Yes, 'managed to' and 'was able to' are interchangeable in this context - they are used to refer to ability on a single past occasion.

For example:

  • He was able to help her.
  • He managed to help her.
  • I was able to tidy up just before they arrived.
  • I managed to tidy up just before they arrived.

By means of further explanation, the word usually held in comparison to 'managed to' and 'was able to' is 'could'. The difference between 'could' and 'managed to/was able to' is that 'could' refers to a general past ability.

For example:

  • She could speak French.
  • I could ride a bike when I was six.

Another difference between 'could' and 'managed to/was able to' is that could just implies that you had the general ability to do something, but may not have actually done or achieved it, where as 'managed to/was able to' implies that you actually went ahead and did it.

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