1. They can't stop working now, as they have to finish something by three o'clock!

  2. They aren't being able to stop working now, as they have to finish something by three o'clock!

I don't know which one is correct. If both are correct, which one sounds more natural? I think the first one sounds more natural but it is the present simple. I think the present progressive in the second one would be more suitable for the meaning of this sentence.

Your answer will help me a lot. Thank you very much!

  • 1
    to be able: They aren't able to x. The progressive tense is not used with to be able.
    – Lambie
    Sep 30, 2022 at 16:23
  • So is there any way to talk about ability/possibility in the progressive tense?
    – PhuongTram
    Sep 30, 2022 at 17:04
  • They aren't being able to [do something] is syntactically credible, but idiomatically it's not a valid construction in English. Well, certainly not mainstream English, but feasibly speakers of Indian English might not find it quite so weird. Sep 30, 2022 at 17:21
  • I would just avoid it. To be able is be + able, It functions like be followed by an adjective. Would you say: I'm being rich? (Unlike others, I avoid extended discussions about some grammar points as they are very obscure and will not move you forward at this point).
    – Lambie
    Sep 30, 2022 at 17:49
  • Present progressive is used only with action verbs. "be able to" is a non-action verb.
    – gotube
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:53

1 Answer 1


The phrase "They aren't being able to" is not idiomatic and I don't think you will get an explanation in a grammar book.

One member said in his answer to some other question on English tenses, that "Simple Present" tense ought to be called "Simple Truth" tense as it is used to state simple truths. The quality of "able to a-verb" and "not able to a-verb" are simple truths and better used in the "Simple Present" or "Simple Past" or "Simple Future".

Compare your example with the following sentence

  • They aren't being charitable to earn reputation now, as they have to spend their earnings by three o'clock.

"Charitable" is not a simple truth thing and you can use it with "progressive" (continuous) tenses.

P.S. This is the best I could do while trying to answer OP's question to the best of my abilities. I would appreciate it very much if more knowledgeable individual/people provide a better explanation to OP's question in the form of an answer and also provide the relevant grammatical sources. It will be helpful to know exactly which grammar rule applies here.


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