\ kən, ˈkan How to pronounce can (audio) also ˈken; dialectal ˈkin \
past could\ kəd , ˈku̇d How to pronounce could (audio) \; present singular & plural can

Definition of can

 (Entry 1 of 5)

auxiliary verb

1a : be physically or mentally able to He can lift 200 pounds.
b : know how to She can read.
c used to indicate possibilityDo you think he can still be alive?Those things can happen. sometimes used interchangeably with may
d : be inherently able or designed to everything that money can buy
e : be enabled by law, agreement, or custom to Congress can declare war.
f : be permitted by conscience or feeling to can hardly blame her
g : be made possible or probable by circumstances to He can hardly have meant that.
h : be logically or axiologically able to 2 + 2 can also be written 3 + 1.
2 : have permission to used interchangeably with mayYou can go now if you like.

transitive verb

1 archaic : to be able to do, make, or accomplish
2 obsolete : know, understand

intransitive verb

archaic : to have knowledge or skill

can

noun
\ ˈkan How to pronounce can (audio) \
plural cans

Definition of can (Entry 2 of 5)

1 : a usually cylindrical receptacle:
a : a container (as of tinplate) in which products (such as perishable foods) are hermetically sealed for preservation until use a can of beans
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 liquid or trash)
c : a jar for packing or preserving fruit or vegetables
d : a vessel for holding liquids specifically : a drinking vessel … in his hand did bear a boozing can— Edmund Spenser
e : a recessed lighting fixture Augment natural light with recessed cans in the ceiling, sconces on side walls, or a table lamp on a shelf …— Jill Connors
2 informal : buttocks He needs a kick in the can.
3 informal
a : toilet sitting on the can
b : bathroom sense 1 He locked himself in the can and wouldn't come out.
4 informal : jail The cops threw him in the can.
5 slang : destroyer sense 2 served on a can during the battle
6 informal : headphone usually pluralYou don't realize just how noisy it is inside a plane until you put on a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones … . I generally leave the noise-cancelling cans on even when I'm not listening to anything at all—the relative quiet makes a long trip less stressful.— Steven Morgenstern
in the can
of a film or videotape : completed and ready for release
\ ˈkan How to pronounce can (audio) \
canned; canning

Definition of can (Entry 3 of 5)

transitive verb

1a : 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
2 : to discharge from employment got canned for being late so often
3 slang : to put a stop or end to were told to can the chatter

Definition of can (Entry 4 of 5)

1 canceled; cancellation
2 cannon
3 canto
variants: or Canad

Definition of Can (Entry 5 of 5)

Canada; Canadian

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Other Words from can

Noun

canful \ ˈkan-​ˌfu̇l How to pronounce canful (audio) \ noun

Verb (2)

canner noun

Can vs. May: Usage Guide

Verb (1)

Can and may are most frequently interchangeable in uses 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.

Examples of can in a Sentence

Noun He ate the whole can of beans. the shelter stores huge cans of water for an emergency
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The Tigers are expected to interview former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and former Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora — both involved in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing, trash can-banging scandal — once the World Series ends. Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Tigers manager search: Al Avila gears up for second wave of interviews," 26 Oct. 2020 The non-alcoholic drink provides consumers with a low-calorie option: Guinness 0.0 comes in at 70 calories in a standard can. Alexis Benveniste, CNN, "Guinness may actually be good for you now: There's a non-alcoholic version," 22 Oct. 2020 Drag them to the trash can in the lower right corner of the dock. Kim Komando, USA TODAY, "5 common tech problems gone with these easy solutions," 22 Oct. 2020 She was arrested in July on a charge of throwing a can at Winton but the case was dismissed, the paper reported. Robert Gearty, Fox News, "Florida detective finds 'most gruesome crime scene ever' at couple's murder-suicide," 19 Oct. 2020 No sooner does an image appear — Ivanka and her can of beans; the Midwestern couple on their front lawn, brandishing guns at civil rights marchers — than it is repurposed and, all too often, defanged. Megan O’grady, New York Times, "Barbara Kruger," 19 Oct. 2020 Put chicken back in the pot, add tomatoes and about 1/4 can of water, oregano, red pepper flakes. Amy Drew Thompson, orlandosentinel.com, "Chicken Cacciatore: a big pot, big love Sunday supper," 15 Oct. 2020 After throwing the can, the man sped off on northbound Noble Road. cleveland, "Road rage leads man, at traffic light, to throw can of Red Bull at woman’s face: Cleveland Heights police blotter," 9 Oct. 2020 Put the can into a pan of water on the stove and heat on low until the slivers are melted. Washington Post, "Hints From Heloise: Erase the stigma of mental health issues," 8 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'can.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of can

Verb (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 2

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (2)

1855, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for can

Verb (1)

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

Noun

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

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Time Traveler for can

Time Traveler

The first known use of can was before the 12th century

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Statistics for can

Cite this Entry

“Can.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/can. Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for can

can

noun
How to pronounce Can (audio)

English Language Learners 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.

can

helping verb
\ kən How to pronounce can (audio) , ˈkan \
past could\ kəd , ˈku̇d \; present singular & plural can

Kids Definition of can

 (Entry 1 of 4)

1 : know how to We can read.
2 : be able to I can hear you.
3 : be permitted by conscience or feeling to They can hardly blame me.
4 : have permission to You can go now.
5 : to be possible Can he still be alive?

can

noun
\ ˈkan How to pronounce can (audio) \

Kids Definition of can (Entry 2 of 4)

1 : a metal container usually shaped like a cylinder a soda can
2 : the contents of a can Add a can of tomatoes.

can

verb
\ ˈkan How to pronounce can (audio) \
canned; canning

Kids Definition of can (Entry 3 of 4)

: to prepare for later use by sealing in an airtight can or jar Let's can peaches for winter.

Can., Canad.

abbreviation

Kids Definition of Can.

1 Canada
2 Canadian

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More from Merriam-Webster on can

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for can

Nglish: Translation of can for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of can for Arabic Speakers

Comments on can

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