I've come across я в состоянии плавать, I can (am able) to swim, and я способен, I can (am able)...

How are both of these used?

3 Answers 3


The short answer

I'd say that я способен can mean both general physical ability and momentary one, я в состоянии on the other hand refers mainly to momentary ability, to translate the sentence literally I'm being in a state/position fit for swimming.

That said the distinction is very slim to be decisive in the choice of expression with respect to momentary ability.

The long answer

It's worth pointing out that for the phrase я способен :

A) 1. The sense of momentary ability would usually be conveyed by perfective verbs (except for verbs of motion - see paragraph B)), i.e.

Я способен увидеть

Я способен пожертвовать

  1. And a sense of general ability - with imperfective verbs

Я способен видеть

Я способен жертвовать

B) 1. With the verbs of motion the meaning of momentary ability is conveyed by their unidirectional variant in both perfective and imperfective aspects

Я способен плыть Uni imperf.

Я способен по/от/пере/за/подплыть Uni perf.

Perfective aspect of multidirectional verbs conveys this meaning as well, i.e.

Я способен поплавать Multi perf.

Я способен сбегать Multi perf.

but it sounds somewhat odd and is almost never used

  1. The meaning of general ability with motion verbs is indicated by their multidirectional variant in imperfective aspect

Я способен плавать Multi imperf.

Я способен бегать Multi imperf.

  • In an expression of general ability I'd rather use я умею плавать, sort of "capable of swimming". Jan 10, 2018 at 22:18

Semantically, быть в состоянии refers to an evident state and/or an action.

быть способен / способным refers to non-evident condition and/or action.

Grammatically, быть в состоянии always-- well, nearly always requires an infinitive:

Я в состоянии съесть ещё полтазика оливье, выпить ещё пол-литра, потанцевать ещё полчаса и ещё раз проголосовать на выборах. Я в состоянии отвечать за себя. Я в состоянии ехать.

быть способным (способен) + на + A Noun in Accusative exists in two variations (with the adjective either in Instrumental or Nominative, for details, see Instrumental Compliment), never to be used with an infinitive;

Я способен на ответственные поступки. Я способен на пьянки и танцы.

*быть способным (способен) + a noun is in many situations interchangeable with оказаться способным/способен and conveys a modality of a new topic (a sort of revelation).

The interchangeability is not, however, complete, as *быть способным (способен) is never used with definite or single-time actuions, or actions of a higher register. Cf:

  • Я способен на ответственность. * Я способен на поездку.


Я оказался способен / способным на ответственность. Я оказался способен / способным на поездку.

The indefinite/non-evidential actions (NB: the indefiniteness is expressed by plural) go with this structure perfectly well, e. g.

Я способен на разговоры. Я способен на поездки

Both types of the structure are intercheangeable with мочь + infinitive.

  • This is a usuful addition, yet it is outside of the scope of my response, because my answer covers the can/to be able to - modalities and в состоянии опьянения/пробуждения/бодрствования/засыпания/сна/насыщения/восхищения/интоксикации/экзальтации/депрессии и т. д. goes with a genitive complement. The быть способным phrase in your example is more like 'to have some abilities' rather than 'to be able to do smth'.
    – Manjusri
    Jan 8, 2018 at 14:52

Literaly first mean "In condition" I in condition [([to do])] Я в состоянии (be able to) сделать это сам Он в состоянии (in conditon) алкогольного опьянения Находясь в состоянии алкогольного опьянения (будучи пьяным when he drunked) человек не способен (not able to) управлять транспортом. (He is not in condition for do it but he can (he's able to))

Я русский поэтому мне тяжело это объяснять на английском. Надеюсь понятно написал.

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