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)

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

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 cans will be available in retail distribution as well as at FirstEnergy Stadium in aluminum bottles. Marc Bona, cleveland.com, "Bud Light 2019 NFL cans due soon; college teams added," 20 Aug. 2019 The logo and colors on the can were made to resemble a beer can from the 1970s, and the contents emulates Vinho Verde, the Portuguese varietal known for being light and spritzy. Georgann Yara, azcentral, "12 Arizona wines to sip by the pool this summer," 1 Aug. 2019 Isco suffered a poor season under Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari, but during pre-season when the Spanish international is fit and in form, there are few players that can affect a game like the 27-year-old can. SI.com, "Picking the Real Madrid XI That Should Start Against Celta Vigo in La Liga Opener," 28 July 2019 The lighthouse cans will be sold in 12-packs at retailers throughout Michigan and will be available from late-July to late-September 2019, according to a news release. Andrea Perez Balderrama, Detroit Free Press, "Vernors Michigan lighthouse collectible cans are back for third year," 25 July 2019 As if the old billing problems weren’t trouble enough, more worms crawled out of the can in March. Steve Lopezcolumnist, Los Angeles Times, "Column: At L.A. City Hall, incompetence and corruption are close cousins," 24 July 2019 After half an hour, or maybe forty-five minutes, a bunch of us ran off to play kick the can or something. Bruce Handy, The New Yorker, "Goodnight Moon Landing," 18 July 2019 The large cans are comfortable enough to wear for hours, which makes them a great option for long flights. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "Amazon Prime Day 2019: The Best Tech Deals for Travelers," 15 July 2019 For years, the can has been one of the most sought after in the world. CBS News, "How craft breweries are embracing cover art," 29 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.

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

Statistics for can

Last Updated

17 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for can

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

See more words from the same century

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.
\ 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

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

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

readily or continually undergoing change

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

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!