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adj. a·bler, a·blest
1. Having sufficient power or resources to accomplish something: a singer able to reach high notes; a detergent able to remove stains.
2. Usage Problem Susceptible to action or treatment: The brakes were able to be fixed.
3. Especially capable or proficient: The new programmers proved to be very able.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin habilis, from habēre, to handle; see ghabh- in Indo-European roots.]
a′bly (ā′blē) adv.
Usage Note: The construction able to takes an infinitive to show the subject's ability to accomplish something: We were able to finish the project thanks to a grant from a large corporation. The new submarine is able to dive twice as fast as the older model. Subjects to which people don't ascribe active roles tend to sound awkward in this construction, especially in passive constructions involving forms of the verb be, as in The problem was able to be solved by using this new method. Here, the use of the passive underscores the subject's not taking an active role, while the use of able suggests the opposite, creating a conflict. In our 2005 survey, only 24 percent of the Usage Panel accepted able in a sentence like this, though 54 percent accepted the use of capable instead (the problem was capable of being solved), suggesting that capable is less jarring. It may be easier just to substitute can or could, which are standard: The problem could be solved by using this new method.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.