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Hi everyone,
Could anyone explain the difference in the use of the :
- He saw himself swimming, being unable to lift his head out of the water, and drowning
- He saw himself swimming, not being able to lift his head out of the water, and drowning

The first sounds wrong to me. The second sounds awkward. I'd say "He saw himself swimming, unable to...". I'd hasard a guess that it's quite rare to use "to be able to" in the progressive form, as it usually describes a state rather than a temporary ability, but what about in this case?

Many thanks in advance for any suggestions.
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arbizonneit's quite rare to use "to be able to" in the progressive form, as it usually describes a state rather than a temporary ability, but what about in this case?
May I just add that be able is not used in the progressive/continuous form in your sentence since there is only the present participle (being). This is an example of the progressive/continuous tense: He is being able to do that. I don't think there are many situations in which this sentence can be used. Offhand, I can't think of a single one!

CB
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Greetings, Arbizonne,

to begin with, there is no difference in meaning between the two sentences, the only dissimilitude lies in the fact that in the former sentence the negation is achieved by lexical means (negative prefix un-), while in the latter - grammatically (with the help of negator not). As you see, the ways to achieve a particular meaning may be different, but the essence stays the same.

Second, to be able as a substitute for the defectiveness of can retains some of the features of the modal verb, and, as you presume, it is stative in meaning. The sentence construction see oneself + -ing requires an -ing form of the verb be to become complete, and there is nothing wrong with that as the -ing form does not always imply the duration of the action, just as this case reveals. You can cross out being, of course, but in my view it should stay in place to create parallelism:

...saw himself + swimming... + being... + ...drowning...

Both sentences you mention are errorless, though I would opt for the first variant (with unable) as a more compact and parallel construction.

Having said all that, I wish to express agreement with the reasoning of Mr Micawber and Cool Breeze.

Respectfully, Gleb Chebrikoff
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Comments  
They sound equally good to me, with no difference in meaning, and equally common. Just two ways to express the same thing.
 Cool Breeze's reply was promoted to an answer.
 Andriy Lapin's reply was promoted to an answer.
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