can

1
[ 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.

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 cun·ning.

Obsolete. to know.

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Origin of can

1
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

usage note for can

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.

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH can

can may shall will (see usage note at the current entry) (see usage note at shall)

Definition for can (2 of 4)

can2
[ kan ]
/ kæn /

noun

verb (used with object), canned, can·ning.

Origin of can

2
before 1000; Middle English, Old English canne, cognate with German Kanne, Old Norse kanna, all perhaps < West Germanic; compare Late Latin canna small vessel

Definition for can (3 of 4)

can.

canceled.

Definition for can (4 of 4)

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

British Dictionary definitions for can (1 of 3)

can1
/ (kæn, unstressed kən) /

verb past could (takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive) (intr)

used as an auxiliary to indicate ability, skill, or fitness to perform a taskI can run a mile in under four minutes
used as an auxiliary to indicate permission or the right to somethingcan I have a drink?
used as an auxiliary to indicate knowledge of how to do somethinghe can speak three languages fluently
used as an auxiliary to indicate the possibility, opportunity, or likelihoodmy trainer says I can win the race if I really work hard

Word Origin for can

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

undefined can

See may 1

British Dictionary definitions for can (2 of 3)

can2
/ (kæn) /

noun

verb cans, canning or canned

Word Origin for can

Old English canne; related to Old Norse, Old High German kanna, Irish gann, Swedish kana sled

British Dictionary definitions for can (3 of 3)

Can.

abbreviation for

Canada
Canadian
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

Idioms and Phrases with can

can

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.