can

verb (1)
\ 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)

transitive verb

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

intransitive verb

archaic : to have knowledge or skill

auxiliary verb

1a : 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 Congress can declare war.
2 : have permission to used interchangeably with may You can go now if you like.

can

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

Definition of can (Entry 2 of 5)

1 : a usually cylindrical receptacle:
a : a vessel for holding liquids specifically : a drinking vessel … in his hand did bear a boozing can— Edmund Spenser
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 container (as of tinplate) in which products (such as perishable foods) are hermetically sealed for preservation until use a can of beans
d : a jar for packing or preserving fruit or vegetables
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 : jail The cops threw him 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 : buttocks He needs a kick in the can.
5 slang : destroyer sense 2 served on a can during the battle
6 informal : headphone usually plural You 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

can

verb (2)
\ 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

can

abbreviation (1)

Definition of can (Entry 4 of 5)

1 canceled; cancellation
2 cannon
3 canto

Can

abbreviation (2)
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

Synonyms for can

Synonyms: Noun

barrel, canister (also cannister), drum, tin

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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

Even their Tostitos corn-chip bags and New Coke cans are period precise. Hank Stuever, Houston Chronicle, "Review: A convoluted ‘Stranger Things’ follows its primal ’80s urges to one monster of a mall," 6 July 2019 Founded by Natalie and Caleb Ebel, the collection has 50 paint colors with names that are as hip and cool as the company’s signature paint cans. Elizabeth Mayhew, Twin Cities, "Surfboard Yellow, Gentleman’s Gray, Mizzle: How do paint companies name their hues?," 6 July 2019 The bathtub is filled with ice, and in the trash can is a lifeguard fanny pack and whistle...covered in blood. Kathryn Lindsay, refinery29.com, "R29 Binge Club: Stranger Things Season 3," 5 July 2019 People had been shooting off fireworks in the area about an hour before the fire, the release noted, but when interviewed by police, those involved denied dumping any used fireworks in the garbage cans where the fire started. Karen Pilarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Three fireworks company employees were injured during the July 4 show in Waukesha," 5 July 2019 But bins marked for recycling have in practice served as yet more garbage cans. The Economist, "Cheerleaders and police usher in a new era of trash-sorting," 4 July 2019 The cans are painted with smiling puppies and ice cream — both looking eager to accept 35 gallons of trash. oregonlive.com, "How a dirty city gets clean: Efforts to clean up Portland’s downtown come together this summer," 2 July 2019 Empty Red Bull cans serve as floats for a safety line that runs from the back of the tomb to the entrance. Kristin Romey, National Geographic, "Dive beneath the pyramids of Egypt’s black pharaohs," 2 July 2019 France was lobbying for the can-can, but c’est la vie. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: MLB’s power surge could lead one to some juicy speculation," 30 June 2019

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 1

Noun

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

Verb (2)

1859, 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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Statistics for can

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Time Traveler for can

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

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More Definitions for can

can

noun

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.
\ 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with can

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for can

Spanish Central: Translation of can

Nglish: Translation of can for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of can for Arabic Speakers

Comments on can

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