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Please, help me to understand the usage of these modals better.

As I think, the most appropriate answer is

I wasn't able to drink coffee (come home late) when I was 10 years old.

because these situations are not about physical abilities (as something wrong with swallowing liquid or with legs :), but about external circumstances e.g. parents' rules, drinking coffee restrictions.

What's your opinion?

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At 10 years of age, your issue is usually permission rather than ability.

Your parents/guardians are in charge of pretty much everything you do. You don't really have any say in things.

So, you really want to say

I didn't have permission to drink coffee (come home late) when I was 10 years old.

but, wow, that's a bit formal, so you'd soften it to

I wasn't allowed to drink coffee (come home late) when I was 10 years old.

& everybody knows you lacked the permission rather than the ability.

From comments:-

"Couldn't" would work, but it's more ambiguous…

I couldn't drive when I was 16.

Permission or ability? I think 'allowed' removes any ambiguity.

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    In this instance, "couldn't" would still be appropriate to convey permission, though. See here (myenglishpages.com/site_php_files/grammar-lesson-modals.php) that "can" indicates permission, possibility or ability. If I had to choose between "couldn't" and "wasn't able", I would say it would be "couldn't". – LnZ Jan 17 at 10:10
  • "I couldn't drive when I was 16" Permission or ability? I think 'allowed' removes any ambiguity. – gone fishin' again. Jan 17 at 10:16
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    Of course, yes. However, from the question posed by @Hüsna Kefelioğlu, it seemed like we had to choose from the options there? That said, I agree that "allowed" is far more clear. – LnZ Jan 17 at 10:17
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    I've added that to the answer, thanks for bringing it up - of course, there will be many times where ambiguity is considerably less. – gone fishin' again. Jan 17 at 10:18
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    Your example above has no permission element at all, so the ambiguity isn't there. They were not able to get a good education because one simply wasn't available to them. – gone fishin' again. Jan 17 at 11:16

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