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I was writing an essay, and I wrote:

...without knowing anything about English at all, but one year later, she was able to communicate with others in English.

I thought I knew the basic difference between could and was able to, but I got confused about whether the sentence sounded natural and was grammatically correct.

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  • There's nothing wrong with your use of 'was able to', but 'without' doesn't fit with the rest of the sentence. Either leave out 'but', or say 'without knowing anything about English [then], one year later she was able...' Jul 20 at 7:52
  • @Kate Bunting Perhaps it begins "She joined the class ...without knowing anything about English at all, but one year later, she was able to communicate with others in English." We need the missing bit. Jul 20 at 13:33
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The two can be interchanged when there is no restriction on "can" such as for the infinitive, the future and the perfective tenses.

English Club) We use be able to to express ability. "Able" is an adjective meaning: having the power, skill or means to do something. If we say "I am able to swim", it is like saying "I can swim". We sometimes use be able to instead of "can" or "could" for ability. Be able to is possible in all tenses - but "can" is possible only in the present and "could" is possible only in the past for ability. In addition, "can" and "could" have no infinitive form. So we use be able to when we want to use other tenses or the infinitive. Look at these examples:

     I have been able to swim since I was five. (present perfect)
     You will be able to speak perfect English very soon. (future simple)
     I would like to be able to fly an airplane. (infinitive)

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