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Description: auxiliary verb, present singular 1st person can, 2nd can or (Archaic) canst, 3rd can, present plural can; past singular 1st person could, 2nd could or (Archaic) couldst, 3rd could, past plural could.
to be able to; have the ability, power, or skill to:
She can solve the problem easily, I'm sure.
to know how to:
He can play chess, although he's not particularly good at it.
to have the power or means to:
A dictator can impose his will on the people.
to have the right or qualifications to:
He can change whatever he wishes in the script.
may; have permission to:
Can I speak to you for a moment?
to have the possibility:
A coin can land on either side.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object), present singular 1st person can, 2nd can or (Archaic) canst, 3rd can, present plural can; past singular 1st person could, 2nd could or (Archaic) couldst, 3rd could, past plural could; imperative can; infinitive can; past participle could; present participle cunning.
Obsolete. to know.
Origin of can 1 Expand
900before 900; Middle English, Old English, present indicative singular 1st, 3rd person of cunnan to know, know how; cognate with German, Old Norse, Gothic kann; see ken, know1
Can be confused Expand
can, may, shall, will (see usage note at the current entry; see usage note at shall )
Usage note Expand
Can 1and may 1are frequently but not always interchangeable in senses indicating possibility: A power failure can(or may) occur at any time. Despite the insistence by some, that can means only “to be able” and may means “to be permitted,” both are regularly used in seeking or granting permission: Can(or May) I borrow your tape recorder? You can (or may) use it tomorrow. Sentences using can occur chiefly in spoken English. May in this sense occurs more frequently in formal contexts: May I address the court, Your Honor?In negative constructions, can't or cannot is more common than may not : You can't have it today. I need it myself.The contraction mayn't is rare.
Can but and cannot but are formal and now somewhat old-fashioned expressions suggesting that there is no possible alternative to doing something. Can but is equivalent to can only : We can but do our best. Cannot but is the equivalent of cannot help but : We cannot but protest against these injustices.See also cannot, help.
a sealed container for food, beverages, etc., as of aluminum, sheet iron coated with tin, or other metal:
a can of soup.
a receptacle for garbage, ashes, etc.:
a trash can.
a bucket, pail, or other container for holding or carrying liquids:
a drinking cup; tankard.
a metal or plastic container for holding film on cores or reels.
Slang: Usually Vulgar. toilet; bathroom.
He's been in the can for a week.
verb (used with object), canned, canning.
to preserve by sealing in a can, jar, etc.
Slang. to dismiss; fire.
Slang. to throw (something) away.
Slang. to put a stop to:
Can that noise!
to record, as on film or tape.
carry the can, British and Canadian Slang. to take the responsibility.
in the can, recorded on film; completed:
The movie is in the can and ready for release.
before 1000; Middle English, Old English canne, cognate with German Kanne, Old Norse kanna, all perhaps < West Germanic; compare Late Latin canna small vessel
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
Cite This Source
British Dictionary definitions for can Expand
/kæn; unstressed kən/
verb (intransitive) ( past) could takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive
used as an auxiliary to indicate ability, skill, or fitness to perform a task: I can run a mile in under four minutes
used as an auxiliary to indicate permission or the right to something: can I have a drink?
used as an auxiliary to indicate knowledge of how to do something: he can speak three languages fluently
used as an auxiliary to indicate the possibility, opportunity, or likelihood: my trainer says I can win the race if I really work hard
Author: Suleman Khoja - From Dictionary.com
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