1

Using a sample page of a website and having access to the properties of each element, the user can generate a wrapper for similar pages.

What are formal words for "can", for example "is able"?!

I think in this sentence, the first parts enables the user (or makes it possible for the user) to do something.

  • 1
    Yes, but what bothers you with "can"? – Stephie Aug 17 '15 at 8:28
  • @Stephie I added my comment to the question. – Ahmad Aug 17 '15 at 8:30
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We have two issues here.

  1. Grammar structure.

    If you look at the original sentence you will notice that the subject is the user and the first part describes by what means the user does something:

    Using a sample page of a website and having access to the properties of each element, [the user] [can] [generate a wrapper for similar pages.]

    The same is true for is able:

    Using a sample page of a website and having access to the properties of each element, [the user] [is able to] [generate a wrapper for similar pages.]

    Once you change to enable, the whole first part becomes the subject, the comma is lost and the user is the object of the sentence (hint: the structure is always subject-verb-object, SVO)

    [Using a sample page of a website and having access to the properties of each element] [enables] [the user] [to generate a wrapper for similar pages.]

  2. Style.

    Whether can or is able is the better choice is
    a) a question of personal style and
    b) context.

    In my experience the "more complicated" or "formal" word can be better, but is not always neccesarily so. In this case, my gut feeling (I'm neither a linguist nor a native speaker) would be that can focuses on the fact of what the user does, enable points out the possibility to do something he previously couldn't. English is a language that (compared to other languages I know) gives less precedence1 to "specialized" words than others, so frankly, if can fits, I'd use it. Overuse of "formal words" can appear forced and even unnatural, but that is probably something for another SE site.


1 See? I'm falling into the "big words trap" myself..

  • I got you that you mean in opposite with some other languages, English doesn't try to be very formal but smooth and moderate. – Ahmad Aug 17 '15 at 12:11
  • @Ahmad, yes. English is often quite matter-of-fact. – Stephie Aug 17 '15 at 12:12
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You can use either "can" or "be able to" in formal English. However, according to The Free Dictionary and the OP's indication, "be able to" is more formal than "can".

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