Last modified on 28 May 2012, at 12:27

Talk:be able to

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The following information passed a request for deletion.

This discussion is no longer live and is left here as an archive. Please do not modify this conversation, though feel free to discuss its conclusions.


  • Strong keep. (1) It is the semantic infinitive of "can", since "can" is defective and doesn't have a morphological infinitive. (2) It has many translations to infinitive of "can" in other languages. —AugPi 20:12, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
    • Translations can go s.v. can, no? (In fact , they're there already, it seems.)​—msh210 20:37, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
      • Though common in Latin, in English it is unusual for an article on a present tense verb form (non-infinitive) to be used as a lemma, which is what is happening here. The only proper way to say the infinitive of "can" is to "be able to", so some users may want to look up translations under "be able to" instead of "can". So in this case, I don't think some duplication would hurt, as in the case of "color" and "colour", which both have translation sections. —AugPi 21:04, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
  • Strong keep (now just keep, Mglovesfun (talk)), these already passed rfd in French, plus you can't take away the "be" or the "to" and keep the meaning, so definitely idiomatic. Mglovesfun (talk) 20:02, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
    • I don't follow. Of course you can't take away any part of the phrase and keep the meaning: that's true of this blue door also. But the phrase means be + able + to precisely the way be unwilling to means be + unwilling + to, and the same for other adjectives (willing, predisposed, inclined, (un)likely, (un)ready, etc.). How do you figure this is idiomatic? On another note, how is frwikt's RFD process relevant? (Do they have CFI of English phrases precisely like our CFI of English phrases?)​—msh210 20:37, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
  • Keep, per above. --Vahagn Petrosyan 20:17, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
  • Redirect to [[able]]. Good to have the phrase is case someone looks it up (since it's the semantic infinitive, as AugPi points out, of can), but not as an entry, since it's just the sum of its parts.​—msh210 20:37, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
  • Redirect to [[able]], per msh210. —RuakhTALK 20:47, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
Wouldn't it be better to redirect to can, since be able to means (infinitive of) can and not able, and if someone were looking for the translations of be able to, s/he could find them under can? —AugPi (t) 03:22, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
The article for can mentions be able to under its Usage Notes, whereas able does not mention anything about the usage of be able to. —AugPi (t) 03:49, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
You might be right about that being the most useful redirect target. Why else would someone type in the term for a search? The drawback is the utter lack of transparency for someone typing it in who is not looking for the translation. Hitting the "back" button doesn't help because the search box is cleared. Though your recommendation is probably expedient for the most common case, it seems to violate a fundamental principle of how a redirect ought to work. Is there some way around this? The usage note is not an ideal for a normal redirect.
Perhaps a redirect to the Usage note section itself? Still a little confusing but at least the right text is there. DCDuring TALK 04:06, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
  • Does anyone have any arguments was to why this meets WT:CFI? The arguments and associated votes for this entry are irrelevant if they do not overcome the basic hurdle of some kind of idiomaticity. That "be able to" is synonymous with a putative missing form of "can" is not a consideration in CFI. If editors would like such a consideration to be a factor or some kind of "utility for translations" consideration to be a factor, we have a Beer Parlor for such conversations. There are senior contributors who support that view. Perhaps someone could formulate a coherent proposal. Perhaps some other wiktionary already has implemented such a standard for inclusion. We could even start an appendix of deleted entries with translations to facilitate their restoration when, as, and if CFI is changed. DCDuring TALK 23:28, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
    • If an English phrase translates to single words in most other languages, and if the phrase is unique, in the sense that there is no other substitute for the infinitive of can, then that gives me reason to think that be able to is idiomatic. —AugPi 23:39, 13 August 2009 (UTC)
      That specific argument has been explicitly and repeatedly rejected as having no bearing on CFI, which contains all the criteria which can support the inclusion discussions on this page. While we are discussing irrelevant considerations, I note that none of the the monolingual OneLook dictionaries include "be able" or "be able to" as idioms. That includes dictionaries of idioms that have little reason to exclude terms that are idiomatic. Idiomaticity in the sense we use it is a monolingual phenomenon. If you would like to make it a multilingual phenomenon please make a coherent argument at the Beer Parlor. DCDuring TALK 00:44, 14 August 2009 (UTC)
      @AugPi: not at all. English uses the adjective "able" the way many languages — including English — use verbs. By this argument, "be sick" are "be ill" are idiomatic because there's also "ail"; "make angry" and "make mad" are idiomatic because there's also "anger"; and so on. Further, even if we accepted this argument, it would only support an entry for "be able", not for "be able to"; in Spanish, for example, "was able to do" = "podía hacer" = "{was able} {to do}". —RuakhTALK 01:18, 14 August 2009 (UTC)
You might have a point there. Two points, in fact. —AugPi (t) 03:35, 21 September 2009 (UTC)
      • The "common sense" argument (to me) says that we are talking about deleting one of the most common verbs in English, maybe in the top 100 or even the top 50. Mglovesfun (talk) 13:25, 14 August 2009 (UTC)
        Your assertion assumes that it is a verb. The collocation is a verb + adjective + particle. The collocation functions like a verb as to many such collocations as Ruakh pointed out. "Common sense" is not part of WT:CFI and is often a source of error. If you would like "common sense" to be part of WT:CFI, please start a thread on WT:BP.
        Following is a list of a few of the most common (many hundreds of occurrences at COCA) adjectives that fit into the slot occupied by "able" in the challenged headword: good (better, best); easy (easier, easiest); necessary, possible, hard, likely, important, difficult, willing, sure, ready, glad, critical, reluctant, sorry, nice, surprised, great. That "can" is defective does not change the status of this as a candidate headword. DCDuring TALK 15:25, 14 August 2009 (UTC)

Delete DCD has it spot-on. Why are these arguments, having nothing to do with our CFI, put forward repeatedly? Why is a group of intelligent people wasting so much cumulative time? Instead of arguing "set phrase" or "direct translation" a 100 times, why don't you guys just once write a proposal to add this to the CFI? Michael Z. 2009-08-14 15:22 z

I’ve been trying to get CFI fixed/improved for years. It is much easier said than done. —Stephen 20:06, 20 September 2009 (UTC)

Delete, based on DCDuring's analysis. --EncycloPetey 03:59, 20 August 2009 (UTC)

KEEP! I agree with AugPi, since I just looked it up as a unit and looked at this page to see the debate -- 2 September 2009

Keep, without prejudice against the well-reasoned arguments for deletion above. It seems to me that there is a sufficient basis for reasonable disagreement on whether this is sum of parts or not; as such, I cannot comfortably support deletion. -- Visviva 18:08, 20 September 2009 (UTC)

Added: I would also be OK with a redirect. It does seem that a strong case could be made for an entry at able to, which has an entry in MWDEU -- especially since a full entry for able would already be quite long. -- Visviva 04:48, 21 September 2009 (UTC)

DeleteRedirect I am finally able to work an exemplification of another argument into my summary: not a set phrase, not a verb phrase, not a verb, not an idiom of any kind. DCDuring TALK 19:17, 20 September 2009 (UTC) Redirect is nicer to users. Perhaps also at least the positive forms could be redirects also to able per SGB below. DCDuring TALK 20:52, 20 September 2009 (UTC)

Keep, at the very least as a redirect. Counting the various cardinal forms such as "am able to", "is able to", "am not able to", "won’t be able to", "were able to", and so on, it surely must be one of the commonest phrases in the English language. If nothing else, it should have a hard or soft redirected to able. —Stephen 20:06, 20 September 2009 (UTC)

  • IMO the strongest case for this to have an entry is the simple fact that millions -- perhaps billions -- of ELLs worldwide have learned it as a unit, the non-defective equivalent of "can". It seems to me that the same rationale that we have used for including various non-lexical bits of Unicode would apply: it may be worthwhile simply to have an entry explaining what this is, why it is not technically a word, and where further information can be found. -- Visviva 04:48, 21 September 2009 (UTC)

Kept. Mglovesfun (talk) 12:57, 7 November 2009 (UTC)


Lemming reportEdit

Wiktionary is the only English dictionary at OneLook (See be able to at OneLook Dictionary Search.) that has this. DCDuring TALK 12:26, 28 May 2012 (UTC)