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[koo dst, koo tst] /kʊdst, kʊtst/
auxiliary verb and verb, Archaic.
2nd person singular simple past tense of can1 .
Also, couldest
[koo d-ist] /ˈkʊd ɪst/ (Show IPA)


[kan; unstressed kuh n] /kæn; unstressed kən/
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 or 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 can1
before 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
can, may, shall, will (see usage note at the current entry; see usage note at shall)
Usage note
Can1 and may1 are 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.


[kan] /kæn/
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:
water can.
a drinking cup; tankard.
a metal or plastic container for holding film on cores or reels.
Slang: Usually Vulgar. toilet; bathroom.
Slang. jail:
He's been in the can for a week.
Slang: Sometimes Vulgar. buttocks.
cans, Slang. a set of headphones designed to cover the ears.
Compare earbuds.
Military Slang.
  1. a depth charge.
  2. a destroyer.
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 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for couldst
Historical Examples
  • couldst see by his cheek and eye that he is as bitter as verjuice.

    The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Hrothgar couldst thou aid at all, the honored chief, in his wide-known woes?

    Beowulf Anonymous
  • But, tell me, how couldst thou thus get into her confidence?

  • If thou canst not trust His priests, couldst thou not trust Him?

    Earl Hubert's Daughter Emily Sarah Holt
  • The Master said, Feeding on rice, clad in brocade, couldst thou be at rest?

  • couldst thou identify these knaves, if once they were apprehended?

    Historic Boys

    Elbridge Streeter Brooks
  • couldst thou but 'a' seen her when she was returned an hour after!

  • couldst thou 105 not see that the fellow did but laud himself?

    In Doublet and Hose Lucy Foster Madison
  • Thou lookest like him, but couldst be his grandchild as to age and vigor.

    The Weird Orient Henry Iliowizi
  • Ah,—how couldst thou know how to do this if thou art Stephen?

    Long Will Florence Converse
British Dictionary definitions for couldst


(archaic) used with the pronoun thou or its relative form, the form of could


/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
Word Origin
Old English cunnan; related to Old Norse kunna, Old High German kunnan, Latin cognōscere to know, Sanskrit jānāti he knows; see ken, uncouth


a container, esp for liquids, usually of thin sheet metal: a petrol can, beer can
another name (esp US) for tin (sense 2)
Also called canful. the contents of a can or the amount a can will hold
a slang word for prison
(US & Canadian) a slang word for toilet or buttocks See toilet
(US, navy) a slang word for destroyer
(navy, slang) a depth charge
a shallow cylindrical metal container of varying size used for storing and handling film
(informal) can of worms, a complicated problem
carry the can, See carry (sense 37)
in the can
  1. (of a film, piece of music, etc) having been recorded, processed, edited, etc
  2. (informal) arranged or agreed: the contract is almost in the can
verb cans, canning, canned
to put (food, etc) into a can or cans; preserve in a can
(transitive) (US, slang) to dismiss from a job
(transitive) (US, informal) to stop (doing something annoying or making an annoying noise) (esp in the phrase can it!)
(transitive) (informal) to reject or discard
Word Origin
Old English canne; related to Old Norse, Old High German kanna, Irish gann, Swedish kana sled
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for couldst



"to put up in cans," 1860, from can (n.1). Sense of "to fire an employee" is from 1905. Related: Canned; canning.



Old English 1st & 3rd person singular present indicative of cunnan "know, have power to, be able," (also "to have carnal knowledge"), from Proto-Germanic *kunnan "to be mentally able, to have learned" (cf. Old Norse kenna "to know, make known," Old Frisian kanna "to recognize, admit," German kennen "to know," Gothic kannjan "to make known"), from PIE root *gno- (see know).

Absorbing the third sense of "to know," that of "to know how to do something" (in addition to "to know as a fact" and "to be acquainted with" something or someone). An Old English preterite-present verb, its original past participle, couth, survived only in its negation (see uncouth), but cf. could. The present participle has spun off as cunning.



Old English canne "a cup, container," from Proto-Germanic *kanna (cf. Old Saxon, Old Norse, Swedish kanna, Middle Dutch kanne, Dutch kan, Old High German channa, German Kanne). Probably an early borrowing from Late Latin canna "container, vessel," from Latin canna "reed," also "reed pipe, small boat;" but the sense evolution is difficult.

Modern "air-tight vessel of tinned iron" is from 1867 (can-opener is from 1877). Slang meaning "toilet" is c.1900, said to be a shortening of piss-can. Meaning "buttocks" is from c.1910.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for couldst



  1. A toilet; john •Said to be a shortening of pisscan (1900+)
  2. The buttocks; rump; ass: And that's when I asked her about her fat can (1910+)
  3. A jail or prison; cell (1910+)
  4. A destroyer; tin can (1930s+ Navy)
  5. A hot rod (1950s+ Hot rodders)
  6. An ounce of marijuana or other narcotic (1930s+ Narcotics)
  7. canvasback duck: I know there are a lot of hunters here this weekend to try for cans (1990s+)


  1. To discharge an employee; fire: He is not the first commentator to be canned by an editor (1905+)
  2. To stop; cease, esp some objectionable behavior •Usu a stern command: Let's can the noise (1906+)
  3. : They caught him and canned him for two weeks
  4. To score by throwing a basket: Shaq canned another 20-footer (1980s+ Basketball)

Related Terms

ash can, get a can on, in the can, kicking can, shitcan, tie a can on someone, tin can

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with couldst
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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