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.
Origin of can1
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 depth charge.
- a destroyer.
verb (used with object), canned, can·ning.
Origin of can2
Related Words for canbucket, jar, bottle, package, canister, pot, keep, commit, manage, vessel, receptacle, cannikin, aluminum, tin, gunboat, throne, head, latrine, privy, outhouse
verb past could (takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive) (intr)
Word Origin for can
- (of a film, piece of music, etc) having been recorded, processed, edited, etc
- informalarranged or agreedthe contract is almost in the can
verb cans, canning or canned
Word Origin for can
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.
In addition to the idioms beginning with can
- can do with
- canned laughter
- can of worms
- as best one can
- before you can say Jack Robinson
- bite off more than one can chew
- carry the can
- catch as catch can
- game that two can play
- get the ax (can)
- in the can
- more than one can shake a stick at
- no can do
- you can bet your ass
- you can lead a horse to water
- you can say that again
- you never can tell
Also see undercan't.