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Etymology 1

From Middle English can, first and third person singular of connen, cunnen (to be able, know how), from Old English can(n), first and third person singular of cunnan (to know how), from Proto-Germanic *kunnaną, from Proto-Indo-European *ǵneh₃- (whence know). Compare West Frisian kinne, Dutch kunnen, Low German könen, German können, Danish and Norwegian Bokmål kunne, Swedish and Norwegian Nynorsk kunna. More at canny, cunning.



can (third-person singular simple present can, present participle -, simple past could, past participle (obsolete except in adjectival use) couth)

  1. (auxiliary verb, defective) To know how to; to be able to.
    She can speak English, French, and German.   I can play football.   Can you remember your fifth birthday?
    • (Can we date this quote?) Reginald Pecock
      Clerks which can write books.
    • 2013 July-August, Lee S. Langston, “The Adaptable Gas Turbine”, in American Scientist:
      Turbines have been around for a long time—windmills and water wheels are early examples. The name comes from the Latin turbo, meaning vortex, and thus the defining property of a turbine is that a fluid or gas turns the blades of a rotor, which is attached to a shaft that can perform useful work.
  2. (modal auxiliary verb, defective, informal) May; to be permitted or enabled to.
    You can go outside and play when you're finished with your homework.   Can I use your pen?
  3. (modal auxiliary verb, defective) To have the potential to; be possible.
    Can it be Friday already?
    Teenagers can really try their parents' patience.
    Animals can experience emotions.
    • 1922, Ben Travers, chapter 5, in A Cuckoo in the Nest:
      The most rapid and most seductive transition in all human nature is that which attends the palliation of a ravenous appetite. [] Can those harmless but refined fellow-diners be the selfish cads whose gluttony and personal appearance so raised your contemptuous wrath on your arrival?
    • 2009, Annette Sym, Simply Too Good to be True, Greenleaf Book Group (→ISBN), page 4:
      Teenagers can be so cruel, and nicknames cut deep.
  4. (auxiliary verb, defective) Used with verbs of perception.
    Can you hear that?.
    I can feel the baby moving inside me.
  5. (obsolete, transitive) To know.
Usage notes
  • For missing forms, substitute inflected forms of be able to, as:
    • I might be able to go.
    • I was able to go yesterday.
    • I have been able to go, since I was seven.
    • I had been able to go before.
    • I will be able to go tomorrow.
  • The word could also suffices in many tenses. “I would be able to go” is equivalent to “I could go”, and “I was unable to go” can be rendered “I could not go”. (Unless there is a clear indication otherwise, “could verb” means “would be able to verb”, but “could not verb” means “was/were unable to verb”.)
  • The present tense negative can not is usually contracted to cannot (more formal) or can’t (less formal).
  • The use of can in asking permission sometimes is criticized as being impolite or incorrect by those who favour the more formal alternative “may I...?”.
  • Can is sometimes used rhetorically to issue a command, placing the command in the form of a request. For instance, “Can you hand me that pen?” as a polite substitution for “Hand me that pen.”
  • Some US dialects that glottalize the final /t/ in can’t (/kæn(ʔ)/), in order to differentiate can as /kɛn/ even when stressed.
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.
See also

Etymology 2

From Middle English canne, from Old English canne (glass, container, cup, can), from Proto-Germanic *kannǭ (can, tankard, mug, cup), perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *gan-, *gandʰ- (a vessel). Cognate with Scots can (can), West Frisian kanne (a jug, pitcher), Dutch kan (pot, mug), German Kanne (can, tankard, mug), Danish kande (can, mug, a measure), Swedish kanna (can, tankard, mug), Icelandic kanna (a can).


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a can (3)

can (plural cans)

  1. A more or less cylindrical vessel for liquids, usually of steel or aluminium, but sometimes of plastic, and with a carrying handle over the top.
  2. A container used to carry and dispense water for plants (a watering can).
  3. A tin-plate canister, often cylindrical, for preserved foods such as fruit, meat, or fish.
  4. (archaic) A chamber pot, now (US, slang) a toilet or lavatory.
    Shit or get off the can.
    Bob's in the can. You can wait a few minutes or just leave it with me.
  5. (US, slang) Buttocks.
  6. (slang) Jail or prison.
    Bob's in the can. He won't be back for a few years.
  7. (slang, plural) Headphones.
  8. (archaic) A drinking cup.
    • Shakespeare, Twelfth Night II.iii
      SIR ANDREW: Nay, my troth, I know not: but I know, to be up late is to be up late.
      SIR TOBY: A false conclusion: I hate it as an unfilled can.
    • Tennyson
      Fill the cup and fill the can, / Have a rouse before the morn.
  9. (nautical) A cube-shaped buoy or marker used to denote a port-side lateral mark
  10. A chimney pot.
Hyponyms of can (Etymology 2)
Derived terms
Related terms
Related terms of can (Etymology 2)
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


can (third-person singular simple present cans, present participle canning, simple past and past participle canned)

  1. To preserve, by heating and sealing in a can or jar.
    They spent August canning fruit and vegetables.
  2. to discard, scrap or terminate (an idea, project, etc.).
    He canned the whole project because he thought it would fail.
  3. To shut up.
    Can your gob.
  4. (US, euphemistic) To fire or dismiss an employee.
    The boss canned him for speaking out.


Other Languages
Afrikaans: can
العربية: can
aragonés: can
armãneashti: can
azərbaycanca: can
Bân-lâm-gú: can
bosanski: can
brezhoneg: can
català: can
čeština: can
corsu: can
Cymraeg: can
dansk: can
Deutsch: can
eesti: can
Ελληνικά: can
español: can
Esperanto: can
euskara: can
فارسی: can
français: can
Frysk: can
galego: can
한국어: can
հայերեն: can
hrvatski: can
Ido: can
Interlingue: can
íslenska: can
italiano: can
ಕನ್ನಡ: can
қазақша: can
Kiswahili: can
kurdî: can
Кыргызча: can
ລາວ: can
latviešu: can
lietuvių: can
Limburgs: can
magyar: can
Malagasy: can
മലയാളം: can
монгол: can
မြန်မာဘာသာ: can
Na Vosa Vakaviti: can
Nederlands: can
日本語: can
norsk: can
occitan: can
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: can
polski: can
português: can
română: can
русский: can
Gagana Samoa: can
संस्कृतम्: can
Simple English: can
slovenčina: can
српски / srpski: can
suomi: can
svenska: can
Tagalog: can
தமிழ்: can
татарча/tatarça: can
తెలుగు: can
ไทย: can
тоҷикӣ: can
ᏣᎳᎩ: can
Türkçe: can
українська: can
اردو: can
vèneto: can
Tiếng Việt: can
Volapük: can
中文: can