Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English

English definition of “can”

can

modal verb
 
 
strong /kæn/ weak /kən, kn/ (past tense and past participle could)
ABILITY A1 to be able to do something: Anna can speak four languages. We can't pay the rent. Can you drive?Skill, talent and ability
PERMISSION A1 to be allowed to do something: You can't park here. Can I go now?Allowing and permitting
ASK A1 used to ask someone to do or provide something: Can you tell her to meet me outside? Can I have a drink of water?Making appeals and requests
OFFER A1 used to politely offer to do something: Can I carry those bags for you?Polite expressions
POSSIBLE A2 used to talk about what is possible: You can buy stamps from the shop on the corner. Smoking can cause cancer.Possible and probable
TYPICAL B2 used to talk about how someone often behaves or what something is often like: She can be really rude at times. This area can be dangerous at night.Describing and telling stories
SURPRISE B1 used to show surprise: You can't possibly be hungry already! Can you believe it? Feelings of surprise and amazement
(Definition of can modal verb from the Cambridge Learners Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)
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

wave

to raise your hand and move it from side to side as a way of greeting someone, telling someone to do something, or adding emphasis to an expression

Word of the Day

Come on – you can do it! Phrasal verbs with ‘come’.

by Liz Walter​,
November 19, 2014
As part of an occasional series on the tricky subject of phrasal verbs, this blog looks at ones formed with the verb ‘come’. If you are reading this blog, I’m sure you already know come from, as it is one of the first things you learn in class: I come from Scotland/Spain.

Read More 

silver splicer noun

November 17, 2014
informal a person who marries in later life Newly retired and now newlywed – rise of the ‘silver splicers’ Reaching pension age becomes a trigger to tie the knot as baby-boomers begin to redefine retirement

Read More