The archaeologists have been unable to discover her identity.

The archaeologists have not been able to discover her identity.

What is the difference between them?

  • 1
    The second sentence sounds less doomed and leaves more hope for future :)
    – Alex_ander
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 9:15
  • 3
    There is no essential difference in terms of semantics. It's simply a stylistic difference—which is subjective. Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


The meaning is not significantly different between the two, and both are grammatically correct. "have been unable" suggests more finality than "have not been able", unless it is qualified with "so far" or "to date" or some similar phrase. The choice is, as Jason Bassford says, a matter of style.

  • If it is qualified with 'so far', which is better, 'have been unable' or 'have not been able'?
    – Y. zeng
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 13:54
  • @Y. zeng In that case i don't perceive any difference of meaning or nuance. Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 13:58

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