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 the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
ably (āblē) 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.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.