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D7. Recipe for Disastercartoon    

ability / inability

Dave and Ian were both post-graduate research students at Cambridge University. One evening, they were chatting and the conversation turned to cookery.
   ‘I tried my hand at cookery once, you know.’ Dave told Ian, ‘but I never managed to work it out.
   ‘I find that very hard to believe, Dave.’ said Ian. ‘You’ve got a first class degree in Physics and you’re completing your doctorate. You are capable of understanding highly complex technical manuals and formulating new ideas from your research. You must be able to follow a recipe.’
   ‘I tried,’ admitted Dave, ‘but I couldn’t manage it.’
   ‘Why?’ insisted Ian. ‘Because the recipe book was full of complicated instructions too difficult for you to follow?’
   ‘Well, you see,’ explained Dave, ‘the problem lay in the fact that all the recipes began in the same way. They all started with Take a clean dish.’

Grammar: ability and inability

There are a variety of ways to express the ideas of ability and inability in English.

could + infinitive without to
I couldn’t understand what the lecturer was talking about.
be able to + infinitive
I’d love to be able to cook well.
manage to + infinitive
It was a difficult book but I eventually managed to understand the theory.
to be capable of  + gerund
I don’t think I’m capable of understanding this technical manual.

Note that the modal verb could can not be used in infinitive, gerund or future forms. To express these ideas, use be able to or manage to instead.

Choose the correct word to complete these sentences.

1.   In a few years time computers will be able / capable / managed of even greater speed .
2.  At first we got lost, but eventually we could / able / managed to find our way after asking directions.
3.  When I found out the truth about Mark, I capable / could / managed hardly believe my ears.
4.  Go into the exam, do your best and show the examiners what you are able / capable / could of.
5.  I hope you were able / capable / managed to find what you were looking for in the store today.

Match the broken sentences.

6. I always believed I was capable… A. to escape without injury.
7. My daughter’s never lived away from home before but she’s managing… B. hear much of the dialogue.
8. I hope you’ll both be able to… C. to cook for herself quite well.
9. The sound quality in the cinema is bad and we couldn’t… D. of learning anything I wanted with a bit of effort.
10. Although the fire was serious, everyone managed… E. come along to the party on Saturday.

Vocabulary exercises

Choose the correct preposition to complete the sentences.

1.   I’d like to try my hand for / at / in windsurfing sometime.
2.  I don’t need any help, thanks. I’m perfectly capable with / to / of fixing it myself.
3.  I think the problem lies in / for / at the fact that you’re using outdated software.
4.  All of his novels end on / to / in the same way, with the heroine marrying the hero.
5.  Colin has a degree with / in / for applied mathematics but he has no idea about housework.
6.  After dinner, the conversation turned up / about / to sport.

Match the broken sentences.

7. My cousin is a post-graduate… A. manuals when I buy a new gadget.
8. The ideas in the research… B. book, though he is an amazing cook.
9. I usually ignore the technical… C. her doctorate in Biochemistry.
10. Matthew never uses a recipe… D. research student at London University.
11. The aim of a doctorate is to formulate... E. paper were highly complex and completely original.
12. Anna is currently completing… F. new ideas and examine new areas of research.


Waiter:     I could cut it into six pieces or twelve pieces. Which would you prefer?
Customer:   Six, please. I’d never manage to eat twelve pieces.