1

can

verb \ kən , ˈkan also ˈken ; dialectal ˈkin \
Updated on: 18 Nov 2017

Definition of can

past could play \kəd, ˈku̇d\; present singular & plural can
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
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
  • Congress can declare war.
2 : have permission to used interchangeably with may
  • You can go now if you like.

can vs. may

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.


Recent Examples of can from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of can

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


2

can

noun \ ˈkan \

Definition of can

plural cans
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 : jail
  • The cops threw him in the can.
3 a : toilet
  • sitting on the can
b : bathroom 1
  • He locked himself in the can and wouldn't come out.
4 : buttocks
  • He needs a kick in the can.
5 : destroyer 2
  • served on a can during the battle

canful

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

Examples of can in a Sentence

  1. He ate the whole can of beans.

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

Recent Examples of can from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of can

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

can Synonyms

Synonyms
barrel, canister (also cannister), drum, tin
Related Words
bucket, pail; cannikin; tin can
Near Antonyms
outside

3

can

verb \ ˈkan \

Definition of can

canned; canning
transitive verb
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
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

canner

noun

Recent Examples of can from the Web

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.

First Known Use of can

1859


4

can

abbreviation

Definition of can

1 canceled; cancellation
2 cannon
3 canto

Can

abbreviation
variants: or Canad

Definition of Can

Canada; Canadian

CAN Defined for English Language Learners

can

noun

Definition of can for English Language Learners

  • : 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 Defined for Kids

1

can

helping verb \ kən , ˈkan \

Definition of can for Students

past could \kəd, ˈku̇d\; present singular & plural can
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?

2

can

noun \ ˈkan \

Definition of can for Students

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

3

can

verb \ ˈkan \

Definition of can for Students

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


Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

WORD OF THE DAY

food, provisions, or a tasty dish

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Find the Cousins

  • a-large-tree-with-many-branches
  • Which pair shares a common word ancestor?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

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!