The little engine that ‘was capable’

Just like ‘although’ and ‘some‘, another word that seems to be fading out is ‘can’.

Not very long ago, we said that people ‘can’ do things, or even that they are ‘able to’ do things.

Instead, an odd – and to my ears, clunky – phrase has crept in. In reports, in guidelines, even on radio, it seems that people are now ‘capable of’ doing things or even that they ‘have the capability of’ doing things:

‘The staff is capable of completing the research’ instead of ‘The staff can complete the research’.

‘The minister’s office is capable of reporting against the target’ instead of ‘The minister’s office can report against the target’.

‘The team has the capability of winning’ instead of ‘The team can win’.

‘I think I am capable of climbing the hill’ instead of ‘I think I can’.

In some cases, of course, ‘capable of’ might be warranted – for example, when we are actually talking about skills:

A university graduate is expected to be capable of coping with such a situation

although even in that case I would still argue that

A university graduate is expected to be able to cope with such a situation

is a much better solution.

Let’s make sure we ‘can’ do things. Please clap your hands if you believe in ‘can’, and just like the Little Engine, say to yourself ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …’