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verb \kən, ˈkan also ˈken; dial ˈkin\

Definition of can

past could play \kəd, ˈku̇d\ present singular & plural can

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 obsolete :  know, understand

  3. 2 archaic :  to be able to do, make, or accomplish

  4. intransitive verb
  5. archaic :  to have knowledge or skill

  6. verbal auxiliary
  7. 1 a :  know how to <she can read> b :  be physically or mentally able to <he can lift 200 pounds> c —used to indicate possibility <do you think he can still be alive> <those things can happen> ; sometimes used interchangeably with may d :  be permitted by conscience or feeling to <can hardly blame her> e :  be made possible or probable by circumstances to <he can hardly have meant that> f :  be inherently able or designed to <everything that money can buy> g :  be logically or axiologically able to <2 + 2 can also be written 3 + 1> h :  be enabled by law, agreement, or custom to

  8. 2 :  have permission to —used interchangeably with may <you can go now if you like>

Usage Discussion of can

Can and may are most frequently interchangeable in senses denoting possibility; because the possibility of one's doing something may depend on another's acquiescence, they have also become interchangeable in the sense denoting permission. The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts. May is relatively rare in negative constructions (mayn't is not common); cannot and can't are usual in such contexts.

Origin of can

Middle English (1st & 3d singular present indicative), from Old English; akin to Old High German kan (1st & 3d singular present indicative) know, am able, Old English cnāwan to know — more at know

First Known Use: before 12th century



noun \ˈkan\

Simple Definition of can

  • : a closed metal container that is usually shaped like a cylinder and that holds food or drink

  • : the food or drink that is in a can

  • : a metal or plastic container that has a removable top and that is used for holding liquid, trash, etc.

Full Definition of can

  1. 1 :  a usually cylindrical receptacle: a :  a vessel for holding liquids; specifically :  a drinking vessel b :  a usually metal typically cylindrical receptacle usually with an open top, often with a removable cover, and sometimes with a spout or side handles (as for holding milk or trash) c :  a container (as of tinplate) in which products (as perishable foods) are hermetically sealed for preservation until use d :  a jar for packing or preserving fruit or vegetables

  2. 2 :  jail

  3. 3 a :  toilet b :  bathroom 1

  4. 4 :  buttocks

  5. 5 :  destroyer 2

can·ful play \ˈkan-ˌfu̇l\ noun
in the can
  1. of a film or videotape :  completed and ready for release

Examples of can

  1. He ate the whole can of beans.

  2. <the shelter stores huge cans of water for an emergency>

Origin of can

Middle English canne, from Old English; akin to Old High German channa

First Known Use: before 12th century

Rhymes with can



verb \ˈkan\

Definition of can


  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 a :  to put in a can :  preserve by sealing in airtight cans or jars <can tomatoes> b :  to hit (a golf shot) into the cup c :  to hit (a shot) in basketball

  3. 2 :  to discharge from employment

  4. 3 slang :  to put a stop or end to

can·ner noun


First Known Use of can





Definition of can

  1. 1 canceled; cancellation

  2. 2 cannon

  3. 3 canto



Definition of Can

  1. Canada; Canadian

Variants of can

or Canad

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