1. The four extracts below all talk about different abilities. Match Extracts 1-4 with topics a)-d).
a) learning a new dance
b) acquiring new artistic skills
c) being a gifted musician
d) developing various talents despite challenges
1. Ms. Walsh has a talent for music. She has perfect pitch, can hear a melody once and pick it out on the piano and can sing pieces of classical music, such as Brahms's Requiem, by heart.
She can sing 2,000 songs in 25 different languages and once brought a Bosnian porter at the airport to tears by singing him a song in his native tongue.
2. Elbé van Rooyen exhibited her work for the first time at the age of fourteen; even at this early stage her unique talent had already become evident. After completing her studies at two universities, she built a career as an executive in the corporate world. This demanding life, however, could not separate her from her passion for painting. She was so talented, so creative. She could paint, she could act, she could write. As her reputation as an artist grew, she decided in 1999 to devote all time and effort to her art.
3. Art departments can teach students how to become better artists, become experts in art history, or teach them how to teach art education in the classroom. Students will be able to take classes in each of these disciplines, but must choose one of these programs in order to earn their degree. Art students will be able to master their skills as painters, sculptors, ceramic artists, or photographers.
4. Four or five of them made it look s easy. And I followed this young man, and he’d got the jeans and the shirt on and the right kind of boots, and he could do it perfectly. And he said to me, “When the music’s really quick like this”, he said, “do the steps a bit smaller.” When I came out of there, I managed to get a lift home from somebody who did not live far from me, and they brought me all the way home.
2. Which of the underlined phrases in the extracts:
■ express ability (or inability):
a) in the present?
b) in the past?
■ are about ability (or inability):
a) to do something at any time?
b) to do something on one occasion?
Language reference Ability
Expressing present ability
We use can / cannot / can't:
Sally Warmer, of Darlington, can squeeze juice from an orange between her shoulder blades. Be able to is also possible:
Bob is able to help aeroplanes park without using hand signals.Expressing ability in the future
We use will be able to to make predictions:
By 2050 people will be able to learn a language by taking a pill.Expressing ability with perfect forms
We use be able to:
He's been able to speak fluent French since he was a child. (present perfect)
If she'd been able to type she might have got the job. (past perfect)
Expressing past ability
We use different verbs for general and specific past ability:
■ to describe ability at any time in the past (general ability) we use could, couldn't or (not) be able to:
Alex the parrot could / was able to name more than 40 objects. I couldn't / wasn't able to dance until I met you.
■ to describe ability on one occasion only in the past (specific ability) we use couldn't (but not could), (not) be able to, (not) manage to:
I wasn't able to phone her last night. I managed to get a lift home after the party. I didn't manage to phone him yesterday. I couldn't get out of bed on Monday morning.General ability Specific ability
could, couldn't, be able to couldn't, be able to, manage to
Manage to means you are able to do something, but only with difficulty:
I managed to start the car, but only after ten minutes of trying.
Notice the different negatives of manage to:
I didn't manage to get out. (I wanted to get out but I couldn't)
I managed not to see him. (I tried not to see him and I succeeded)
1. In sentences 1-10, do the underlined verbs and expressions refer to the past, present or future or are they a perfect form? Do they talk about general (g) or specific (s) ability?
General ability (g) or specific ability (s)
Example: When I was a child I was able to stand on my head easily.
1. I managed to get a doctor's appointment yesterday.
2. New research suggests that people will soon be able to lose weight by taking pills.
3. People are able to do all sorts of things today that were impossible only 30 years ago.
4. My uncle can't hear very well.
5. Sue was unable to understand why I wanted to keep that old chair.
6. I didn't manage to phone my sister last night.
7. I haven't been able to run since I broke my leg last year.
8. Tyrannosaurus Rex was able to bite with the force of a lorry on each tooth.
9. I'm not able to do the tango. It's really difficult.
10. My friend Alice lost her house keys yesterday, but she was able to climb in through the bathroom window.
In three sentences the verb or expression of ability can be replaced with could or couldn't. Which three sentences?
2. Choosing the best form
Underline the correct verb or verb phrase. (Sometimes both are possible.)
Example: Animals can / manage to communicate with each other.
1 I managed to / could persuade him to come to the restaurant with us.
2 She managed to / could persuade anybody to do anything.
3 I couldn't / didn't manage to understand the instructions for the game.
4 Pierre wasn't able to / couldn't wash the car because he had to leave early.
5 'I can smell / I'm smelling something burning,' said Natasha.
6 To be an airline pilot you must be able to / can react quickly in difficult situations.
7 Rebecca won't be able to / can't come at the weekend after all.
8 I've been able to / can drive since I was 17.
3. Completing a text
Fill in each gap in the sentences below with a verb of ability. (More than one is possible for most of the gaps.)
• Monkeys can count up to nine, and 1.__________ recognise which groups of objects are larger than others. Scientists have shown that animals 2. __________ think, even though they 3.__________ talk.
Humans 4. __________ look at groups of four or fewer objects and know how many things are in the group without having to count. Researchers found that the monkeys 5. __________ count to four, so they were then tested on five to nine objects. They did just as well. They 6.__________ do this, the researchers say, because they had learnt some rules about numbers and counting.
• Some years ago in Atlanta, Georgia, a bonobo chimpanzee called Kanzi 7. __________ slice his food by breaking a rock into small pieces and using a sharp part to cut with.
• British experimenters tested sheep's abilities by showing them photographs of each other. Now we know that sheep 8. __________ recognise each other from photographs.
/From Developing Grammar in Context. Mark Nettle and Diana Hopkins/
Speaking Sea Battle
1. Look at the grid below. Highlight seven boxes containing the abilities which you have or used to have earlier in your life. Do not show your partner your grid!
2. Work in pairs and ask each other in turns about the abilities given in the grid you think your partner may have. (e.g. Can you perform modern dances?) Your aim is to find the seven boxes your partner highlighted. If you hit one, find out some details about the partner’s abilities. (e.g. How long has he or she been able to do sth? Why did he or she give it up? Has he or she ever received any prize (or has somehow been praised) for his or her ability?)
Use the other grid to keep a record of your partner’s answers.
The pair which finds all the seven highlighted boxes of each other and can give a detailed description of each other’s abilities – WINS!!!
dance folk dances (Oriental, Latin etc)
watch foreign movies without dubbing or subtitles
show sb the sights in my native city (or Moscow)
make models from plasticine or clay
write short stories or poems
learn and recite poems
play a musical instrument
draw with pencil
dance modern dances
take professional photographs
participate in discussions in foreign languages
put professional make-up on sb or style sb’s hair
write for-and-against essays
construct objects with lego bricks
knit, weave or sew
perform on stage
paint in oil (watercolors etc)
grow flowers or arrange them beautifully
do magic tricks (card tricks)
do computer design work
(design a web-site)
read books in foreign languages
your special ability
 Lowry, Glenn - Director, Art Gallery of Ontario