Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English

English definition of “can”

can

modal verb uk   strong /kæn/ weak /kən/ us  

can modal verb (ABILITY)

A1 to be able to: Can you drive? She can speak four languages. Can you read that sign from this distance? The doctors are doing all that they can, but she's still not breathing properly. Do the best you can - I realize the circumstances are not ideal. If the party is awful, we can always leave (= that would be one possible solution to our problem). "She's really furious about it." "Can you blame her (= I'm not surprised)?"Possible and probable can do US informal used to say that you can and will do something: "Will you mail this letter for me, please?" "Can do." "I need you to pick up the kids today." "Sorry, no can do (= no I can't)."Ready and willingUnwilling and reluctant

can modal verb (PERMISSION)

A1 to be allowed to: Can I use your bike, John? You can park over there. You can have a piece of cake after you've eaten your vegetables!Allowing and permitting informal sometimes used to tell someone angrily to do something: If you carry on being horrible to your sister, Sophie, you can just go to bed!Giving orders and commands

can modal verb (REQUEST)

A1 used to request something: If you see Adrian, can you tell him I'm in London next weekend? Can you make a little less noise, please? I'm trying to work.Making appeals and requests

can modal verb (POSSIBILITY)

A2 used to express possibility: You can get stamps from the local newsagents. You can get very nasty skin diseases from bathing in dirty water. Smoking can cause cancer. Noise can be quite a problem when you're living in a flat. He can be really annoying at times (= he is sometimes very annoying).Possible and probable

can modal verb (OFFER)

A1 used in polite offers of help: Can I help you with those bags? I'm afraid Ms Ferguson has already left the office. Can I be of any help?Polite expressions
(Definition of can modal verb from the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
What is the pronunciation of can?
Browse related topics

You are looking at an entry to do with Possible and probable, but you might be interested in these topics from the Chance and possibility topic area:

Add Cambridge dictionaries to your browser to your website

Definitions of “can” in other dictionaries

Word of the Day

improvisation

a performance that an actor, musician, etc. has not practised or planned

Word of the Day

Blog

Read our blog about how the English language behaves.

Learn More

New Words

Find words and meanings that have just started to be used in English, and let us know what you think of them.

Learn More