can

verb (1)
\ kən, ˈkan How to pronounce can (audio) also ˈken; dialectal ˈkin \
past could\ kəd , ˈku̇d How to pronounce can (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 possibility Do 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 may You 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 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

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from can

Noun

canful \ ˈkan-​ˌfu̇l How to pronounce Can (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 Making a cocktail fresh rather than drinking one from a can will always be superior. Chris Hachey, BGR, "Best Manual Fruit Juicer," 22 Apr. 2021 Allen explained, while spotlighting the best and brightest makers from across the country with a can-do attitude and a competitive streak. Mónica Marie Zorrilla, chicagotribune.com, "Tim Allen and Richard Karn talk reuniting after ‘Home Improvement’ for ‘Assembly Required’," 24 Feb. 2021 At one point, sick of falling on his drunken ass, Kyle just sits down in the middle of the rink, drinking Loverboy from the can. Brian Moylan, Vulture, "Summer House Recap: Skating on Thin Ice," 11 Feb. 2021 And a small hospital in Nebraska’s corn and soybean belt mixed logistics with a can-do attitude to vaccinate front-line staffers hours after its precious shipment arrived. Robert Weisman, BostonGlobe.com, "Rural states leading the nation in early COVID-19 vaccinations," 9 Jan. 2021 Steve Brooks is a survivor, with a can-do spirit that’s worthy of the name Santa Claus. Mary Colurso | Mcolurso@al.com, al, "Santas in Alabama need a little extra magic this year (and maybe a plexiglass shield)," 22 Dec. 2020 Bristol Global Mobility, based in Phoenix, gives the Andrew Award to someone with a can-do attitude who serves others. Diane Bell Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Elevator operator goes down in Hotel del Coronado lore," 18 Dec. 2020 Gaga takes a swig from the can, then crushes it and hurls it to the ground. Los Angeles Times, "Lady Gaga’s ‘rural voter’ video sparks fan love — and unflattering imitations," 2 Nov. 2020 Pour the warm soap from the can into candy molds or muffin tins for a fun, decorative look. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about can

Time Traveler for can

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for can

Cite this Entry

“Can.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/can. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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.

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

What made you want to look up can? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!