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Could you possibly help me please by answering this question..

"He has a new sports car now. He ........ it for a good price. He paid 20 percent less than the regular retail cost."

  1. was able to buy
  2. could buy
  3. was supposed to buy
  4. had to buy

Thanks

  • Which of those four options do you think are wrong? Do you have any idea which might be right? Please tell us what you think about the possible answer, and why - that way we can help you a lot better. Just giving you the answer won't be very useful. – oerkelens Nov 4 '14 at 12:41
  • ok.Thank you for help.I would choose the option 1 or 3 both sound ok with me but I dont know what would it mean – Mrt Nov 4 '14 at 12:44
  • Well, option three "was supposed to" means that in the past we thought he was going to buy it, but he did not. Since the first sentence says he has the car, an option that tells us he did not buy it, is probably not the right option. – oerkelens Nov 4 '14 at 12:50
  • yeah probably.When I use " was supposed to buy ", I thought it adds a meaning like " he must/ should have bought " ..I mean something which highly possibly happaned..but now I got it.It works in different way..Thank you. So can I ask to make sure why we dont use other options either. For me the second option is more related to ability and the last option is related to obligation that there is no obligated situation here .. – Mrt Nov 4 '14 at 13:00
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"He has a new sports car now. He ........ it for a good price. He paid 20 percent less than the regular retail cost."

  1. was able to buy
  2. could buy
  3. was supposed to buy
  4. had to buy

The test which the OP sourced this question from is not very good. They invented this question to test learners' understanding of some differences between the modal verb could and the BE + adjective combination, be able (to X).

Generally speaking, could either refers to a general ability in the past, or something that is a hypothetical possibility. It doesn't usually give us the idea that the Subject actually did do the action we're talking about at a specific time.

Was able to, on the other hand, often does give us the impression that the Subject managed to do that thing.

  • She could undo her seat belt and escape from the car. (It was a possibility)
  • She was able to undo her seat belt and escape from the car. (She managed to do it)

In the original test question, the tester wants answer (1), because the man did manage to buy the car for a good price.

The problem is that this is a bad test question: we use was able to in this way when it gives us important information about whether the subject managed to do this thing or not. Here we already know that the man bought the car. The sentence with was able is awkward. In real life, it would be much better to just say "He bought it for a good price"!

But - in real life we also have to do tests and exams about English. So it's important to know that if you get a question about was able to and could, the question might be about whether the subject actually managed to do that thing.

We need to know what the examiner wants - even if they're not very clever. So you have to learn to give the examiners what they want! The Golden Rule for exams:

  • Give the monkey what he wants!
  • 1
    I don't fully agree with your analysis of he was able to. The following sentence sounds natural to me: "Yes, I know this car is a bit more luxurious than what I would normally have bought, but I was able to get it at a really good price." Simply stating that I got it at a good price removes the extra information that this was a really special opportunity (and maybe there was some skill involved from my side; I negotiated very well?) – oerkelens Nov 4 '14 at 13:15
  • Thank you Araucaria and Oerkelens.It really helps..and thanks for tips on exams. – Mrt Nov 4 '14 at 13:25
  • @oerkelens I think your example make the buying it at a good price more salient, because you present a problem/discrepancy about the price, before you make the achieving the good price revelation. In the test example, it's just a buying a car for a good price that's revealed - and we already know he bought the car. The sentence after this then tries to big up the price issue. The price issue isn't in the foreground when we first read that 'he was able to buy it at a good price'. It's just the having a new car that's in the foreground. Does that seem a fair analysis? – Araucaria Nov 4 '14 at 13:52
  • The fact that it's a sports car gives the first sentence a connotation about the price / value being higher than expected. I do agree that was able to adds detail to the sentence that may be lost on the student, but I would not shoot it down as an unnatural sentence. If this was the extent of poor quality in test questions, I would celebrate ESL-education! – oerkelens Nov 4 '14 at 13:59
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    I think your first (3) should be (2); you confused me there :) I admit that between (1) and (2), the "better" is arguable. The new sports car pushed me towards (1), but that depends fully on interpretation (and personal expectations of cars of course). – oerkelens Nov 4 '14 at 15:30

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