I think 'could' has a lot more meanings than 'would be able to' does. But is it possible that one can consider that all the usages of 'would be able to' can be rephrased as just 'could'? In other words, does 'could' include 'would be able to'? (if you can ignore the slight politeness differences)

If not, could you make some examples for me?

  • Sounds possible to me. Check Longman's Advanced Learner's Dictionary - it contains a nice list for the application of 'could'. – johann_ka Jun 2 at 17:00
  • Even when I was only 6 I could swim. That's fine, but even in the limited contexts where Even when I was only 6 I would be able to swim would be "syntactically acceptable", it wouldn't really mean the same thing. Another pair: What you say could be true, but I doubt it is perfectly natural English, but What you say would be able to be true, but I doubt it wouldn't really be acceptable to anyone in any context I can think of. – FumbleFingers Jun 2 at 17:08
  • I think it might be more useful if you think in terms of is / was able to being "equivalent" to could. Including both would and be able to just mixes up the senses of "irrealis" (might happen / have happened, but actually won't / didn't), together with "habitual action in the past" and [cap]ability. As a general principle, shorter is better. And there's no such principle as "more verbose / longer phrasing is more polite", which you seem to be implying. – FumbleFingers Jun 2 at 17:22

When you use could to express a conclusion that's purely logical and not dependent on a choice, it won't work very well with would be able to.

I dropped it five minutes ago; it could be six feet in the water by now.

I dropped it five minutes ago; it would be able to be six feet in the water by now (bad).

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