Dictionary > English Dictionary > Definition, synonym and antonym of can
Meaning of can by Wiktionary Dictionary


    Etymology 1

    Middle English can ( first and third person singular of cunnen, connen "to be able, know how" ) from Old English can( n ), first and third person singular of cunnan ( “to know how” ). More at canny, cunning .


    • ( stressed )
      • enPR: kăn, IPA: /kæn/, /kɛn/, X-SAMPA: /k{n/, /kEn/
      • Rhymes: -æn
    • ( unstressed )
      • IPA: /kən/, /kn̩/, /kɪn/, X-SAMPA: /k@n/, /kn=/, /kIn/


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

    1. ( modal 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?
    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. ( obsolete, transitive ) To know .
      I can rimes of Robin Hood. — Piers Plowman .
      I can no Latin, quod she. — Piers Plowman .
      Let the priest in surplice white, / That defunctive music can. — Shakespeare .
    Usage notes

    For missing forms, substitute inflected forms of be able to, as:

    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 often contracted to cannot or can't .

    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."

    • cannot
    • can’t
    See also
    • Appendix:English tag questions

    Etymology 2

    From Middle English canne, from Old English canne ( “glass, container, cup, can” ), from Proto-Germanic *kannōn ( “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” ) .


    • ( RP, GenAm ) enPR: kăn, IPA: /kæn/, X-SAMPA: /k{n/
      • Rhymes: -æn
    • ( Australia ) IPA: /kæːn/, X-SAMPA: /k{:n/
      • Rhymes: -æːn
    • ( NY ) IPA: /keən/, X-SAMPA: /ke@n/


    a can ( 3 )

    can ( plural: cans )

    1. A more or less cylindrical vessel for liquids, usually of steel or aluminium .
    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. ( US, slang ) toilet, bathroom .
    5. ( US, slang ) buttocks .
    6. ( slang ) jail or prison .
    7. ( slang ) headphones .
    Derived terms


    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 .



    • ANC
    • CNA
    • NCA


    By Wiktionary ( 2009/11/15 01:05 UTC Version )


    Can .

    1. 略語 of Canada .

    Alternative form

    • Can


    • ANC
    • CNA
    • NCA

Explanation of can by Wordnet Dictionary


    1. preserve in a can or tin

    2. terminate the employment of

    1. airtight sealed metal container for food or drink or paint etc .

    2. a room or building equipped with one or more toilets

    3. a plumbing fixture for defecation and urination

    4. the fleshy part of the human body that you sit on

    5. a buoy with a round bottom and conical top

    6. the quantity contained in a can

    Definition of can by GCIDE Dictionary


    1. Can ( kăn ), an obs. form of began, imp. & p. p. of Begin, sometimes used in old poetry. [See Gan.]

      With gentle words he can faile gree. Spenser.

    2. Can, n. [OE. & AS. canne; akin to D. Kan, G. Kanne, OHG. channa, Sw. Kanna, Dan. kande.]
      1. A drinking cup; a vessel for holding liquids. [Shak. ]

      Fill the cup and fill can,

      Have a rouse before the morn. Tennyson.

      2. A vessel or case of tinned iron or of sheet metal, of various forms, but usually cylindrical; as, “a can of tomatoes; an oil can; a milk can”.

      ☞ A can may be a cylinder open at the top, as for receiving the sliver from a carding machine, or with a removable cover or stopper, as for holding tea, spices, milk, oysters, etc., or with handle and spout, as for holding oil, or hermetically sealed, in canning meats, fruits, etc. The name is also sometimes given to the small glass or earthenware jar used in canning.

    3. Can v. t. [imp. & p. p. Canned ; p. pr. & vb. n. Canning.] To preserve by putting in sealed cans [U. S.] “Canned meats” W. D. Howells.

      Canned goods, a general name for fruit, vegetables, meat, or fish, preserved in hermetically sealed cans.

    4. Can v. t. & i. [The transitive use is obsolete.] [imp. Could] [OE. cunnen, cannen ( 1st sing. pres. I can ), to know, know how, be able, AS. cunnan, 1st sing. pres. ic cann or can, pl. cunnon, 1st sing. imp. cūðe ( for cunðe ); p. p. cūð ( for cunð ); akin to OS. Kunnan, D. Kunnen, OHG. chunnan, G. können, Icel. kunna, Goth. Kunnan, and E. ken to know. The present tense I can ( AS. ic cann ) was originally a preterit, meaning I have known or Learned, and hence I know, know how. √45. See Ken, Know; cf. Con, Cunning, Uncouth.]
      1. To know; to understand. [Obs.]

      I can rimes of Robin Hood. Piers Plowman.

      I can no Latin, quod she. Piers Plowman.

      Let the priest in surplice white,

      That defunctive music can. Shak.

      2. To be able to do; to have power or influence. [Obs.]

      The will of Him who all things can. Milton.

      For what, alas, can these my single arms? Shak.

      Mæcænas and Agrippa, who can most with Cæsar. Beau. & Fl.

      3. To be able; -- followed by an infinitive without to; as, “I can go, but do not wish to”.

      Syn. -- Can but, Can not but. It is an error to use the former of these phrases where the sens requires the latter. If we say, “I can but perish if I go,” “But” means only, and denotes that this is all or the worst that can happen. When the apostle Peter said. “We can not but speak of the things which we have seen and heard.” he referred to a moral constraint or necessety which rested upon him and his associates; and the meaning was, We cannot help speaking, We cannot refrain from speaking. This idea of a moral necessity or constraint is of frequent occurrence, and is also expressed in the phrase, “I can not help it.” Thus we say. “I can not but hope,” “I can not but believe,” “I can not but think,” “I can not but remark,” etc., in cases in which it would be an error to use the phrase can but.

      Yet he could not but acknowledge to himself that there was something calculated to impress awe, . . . in the sudden appearances and vanishings . . . of the masque De Quincey.

      Tom felt that this was a rebuff for him, and could not but understand it as a left-handed hit at his employer. Dickens.

    5. May ( mā ), v. [imp. Might ( mīt )] [AS. pres. maeg I am able, pret. meahte, mihte; akin to D. mogen, G. mögen, OHG. mugan, magan, Icel. mega, Goth. magan, Russ. moche. √103. Cf. Dismay, Main strength, Might. The old imp. mought is obsolete, except as a provincial word.] An auxiliary verb qualifying the meaning of another verb, by expressing: Ability, competency, or possibility; -- now oftener expressed by can.

      How may a man, said he, with idle speech,

      Be won to spoil the castle of his health! Spenser.

      For what he [the king] may do is of two kinds; what he may do as just, and what he may do as possible. Bacon.

      For of all sad words of tongue or pen

      The saddest are these: “It might have been.” Whittier.

      Liberty; permission; allowance.

      Thou mayst be no longer steward. Luke xvi. 2.

      Contingency or liability; possibility or probability.

      Though what he learns he speaks, and may advance

      Some general maxims, or be right by chance. Pope.

      Modesty, courtesy, or concession, or a desire to soften a question or remark.

      How old may Phillis be, you ask. Prior.

      Desire or wish, as in prayer, imprecation, benediction, and the like. “May you live happily.” Dryden.

      May be, and It may be, are used as equivalent to possibly, perhaps, maybe, by chance, peradventure. See 1st Maybe.