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I'm not able to make it fly high.

If I change not able to unable, will it retain the same meaning? When should I use not able and when unable?

Is the phrase fly high correct? Suppose I'm trying to make a helicopter fly high, but it's not gaining altitude and I say "I'm not able to make it fly high." to mean that.

  • You could just add the intensifier, enough, to your original sentence to make it sound more natural: "I'm not able to make it fly high enough" but with "unable"; "I'm unable to make it fly high enough" that sounds stilted. – Mari-Lou A Jun 3 '13 at 9:46
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As kiamlaluno says, using unable instead of not able doesn't change the meaning of the sentence.

But idiomatically, in virtually every context, it would be more natural to say "I can't [do something]".

There's nothing inherently wrong with "make it fly high", but I think native speakers would probably say...

"I can't make it fly any higher"

The implication there being you've made it fly as high as you can. Very likely the reason you're saying anything at all is because it's currently (or was recently) that high, and whoever you're talking to knows how high that is/was. Otherwise, how does anyone know how high is "high"?

  • I shouldn't put it in the answer itself, but I can't resist pointing out that my father, faced with any context where the actual height of "high" was relevant, but unspecified, would always respond "How high is a Chinaman?" – FumbleFingers May 28 '13 at 21:47
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Unable is the opposite of able; using unable instead of not able doesn't change the meaning of the sentence. In some cases, you could use not able as emphasis, for example when somebody tells you "You are able to […]." and you reply with "I am not able to […]." (The highlighted word is the one said with a higher tone.)

Supposing you are talking of an airplane you pilot, you can say "I cannot gain height." or "I cannot gain altitude." If you are talking of something you don't pilot, you can say "It cannot gain height." or "It cannot gain altitude."

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