Can the phrase "to be able to" be used without the preposition "to". For example, can you say "I will call you back as soon as I am able?"

  • 2
    Yes. The stranded to is just an infinitive complementizer, and it's not needed (though it's allowed) once the infinitive has been dropped. So both I'll call you back as soon as I'm able to and I'll call you back as soon as I'm able are OK. As is I'll call you back as soon as I can, since be able to is the paraphrase for can. Jul 29, 2013 at 22:30
  • By the way, auxiliaries with pronoun subjects like I am, I have, and I will are almost always contracted (to I'm, I've, and I'll, respectively) in modern English. Uncontracted auxiliaries after pronouns are emphatic. Jul 29, 2013 at 22:31
  • Google Books claims 71K instances of as soon as you are able to, but 103K instances of as soon as you are able without the preposition. Even allowing for the fact that GB guesstimates are often wildly out, that does rather suggest doing away with the preposition is far from uncommon. And it's perfectly valid, as @John says. Jul 29, 2013 at 22:35
  • Yes, like many such deletions, it's optional and subject to local and personal conventions. Which can be quite different from one another, since people dream them up themselves, and usually convince themselves that their way is the only possible way to say or understand it. Jul 29, 2013 at 22:48
  • @FumbleFingers When I read your comment referring to "GB guesstimates", my first thought was 'why is he mentioning British estimates?' I question the use of "GB" as an abbreviation for "Google Books"!
    – TrevorD
    Jul 29, 2013 at 22:51

1 Answer 1


Yes. The 'to' is part of an implied infinitive, meaning "I will call you back as soon as I am able to call you back". If context is understood (in this case, you have already stated that the intended action is to call back), the preposition is not necessary.

  • 1
    It isn’t even a preposition.
    – tchrist
    Jul 30, 2013 at 13:16
  • Yeah, but you gotta call it something. Jul 30, 2013 at 14:10
  • Technically, no. I refer to it as a preposition to be succinct, since 'to' alone is indeed a preposition. As I said earlier in my answer, it is actually the first half of an implied infinitive.
    – David G
    Jul 30, 2013 at 14:57

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