Meaning of “can” in the English Dictionary

"can" in British English

See all translations

canmodal verb

uk strong /kæn/ weak /kən/ us strong /kæn/ weak /kən/

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)?"
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)."

More examples

  • I don't know how he can afford a new car on his salary.
  • Cats can see in the dark.
  • The water's not deep here - look, I can touch the bottom.
  • I doubt whether I can finish the work on time.
  • Computers can perform millions of calculations every second.

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!

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!

More examples

  • If you finish early you can go home.
  • She can come whenever she likes, as far as I'm concerned.
  • Finish up your dinner and you can have dessert.
  • How early can you get off this afternoon?
  • Anyone can go - you don't have to be invited.

can modal verb (REQUEST)

A1 used to request something:

If you see Brett, can you tell him I'm in town next weekend?
Can you make a little less noise, please? I'm trying to work.

More examples

  • I can't get the cork out of the bottle - can you try?
  • Excuse me, can I just get past?
  • It's freezing in here - can I close the window?
  • Please can I have a go on your bike?
  • Andrew, can you help me install this software?

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).

More examples

  • Couples who are childless can feel excluded from the rest of society.
  • Children can choke on peanuts.
  • Clearance of a cheque can take up to a week.
  • You can get travel concessions if you are under 26.
  • Not making a will can have serious consequences for the people you might wish to benefit.

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?

More examples

  • Is there anything I can do to help?
  • You can go instead of me, if you want.
  • You look lost - can I help you?
  • What a lot of bags! Can I carry something for you?
  • "If you like I can do some shopping for you." "That's a very kind offer."


uk /kæn/ us /kæn/

can noun (CONTAINER)

A2 [ C ] also tin can, UK also tin a closed metal container, especially cylinder-shaped, in which some types of drink and food are sold:

a can of soup/beans

[ C ] UK also tin the amount of food or drink that is contained in a can:

You'll need a can of tuna for this recipe.

[ C ] UK also tin a metal container, especially one with a lid, handle, and shaped opening for pouring:

an oil can
a can of paint

can noun (HEADPHONES)

cans [ plural ] slang

→  headphones :

I was wearing cans so I didn't hear anything.

canverb [ T ]

uk /kæn/ us /kæn/ -nn-

(Definition of “can” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"can" in American English

See all translations

cannoun [ C ]

us /kæn/

can noun [ C ] (CONTAINER)

a metal container, esp. a closed, cylindrical container in which food and drink are packaged:

The vending machine has soda in cans.

A can is also the amount of food or drink that a can holds:

I had a can of soup for lunch.

canverb [ T ]

us /kæn/ -nn-

can verb [ T ] (CONTAIN)

to preserve food by putting it into a can or into a jar (= glass container) from which the air is removed:

They can all kinds of fruit.

slang If you get canned, you are dismissed from your job:

No, I’m not on vacation – I got canned last week.

canmodal verb

us /kæn, kən/ present tense can, past tense could /kʊd, kəd/

can modal verb (ABLE)

to be able to:

She can speak four languages.
We’re doing the best we can, but we won’t make our deadline.

can modal verb (PERMIT)

to be allowed or to have permission:

You can park on the street.
You can do it by yourself.

Can is also used to request something:

Can you help me lift this box?
Can I have a tissue, please?
Note: Can is usually used in standard spoken English when asking for permission. It is acceptable in most forms of written English, although in very formal writing, such as official instructions, may is often used instead: Persons under 14 unaccompanied by an adult may not enter.

can modal verb (BE POSSIBLE)

used to express possibility in the present:

You can get stamps at the post office.

can modal verb (OFFER)

used in polite offers of help or by someone who provides service, as in a store:

Can I help you with those bags?

(Definition of “can” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

"can" in Business English

See all translations

canverb [ T ]

uk strong /kæn/ uk weak /kən, kn/ us -nn-

PRODUCTION to put food or drink into a closed metal container to preserve it:

canned dog foods.

US informal HR to remove someone from their job:

After becoming partner in May of last year, she was canned five months later.

(Definition of “can” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)