Children's, Intermediate and Advanced Online English Dictionary & Thesaurus

Dictionary Suite


grammatical pattern:
modal + bare inf.
Language Note
part of speech: auxiliary verb
inflections: can, could
definition 1: to have the ability to.
She can play the piano beautifully.[modal + bare inf. ] Can you swim?[modal + bare inf. ] I can't cook, so I eat out a lot.[modal + bare inf. ]
similar words:
definition 2: to have the power or right to.
Only the boss can hire and fire employees.[modal + bare inf. ]
definition 3: to have permission to.
Can I come in?[modal + bare inf. ] You can't smoke anywhere in the hospital.[modal + bare inf. ]
definition 4: used to express the potential for something to happen or to be as one expects.
It can snow in this area even in May.[modal + bare inf. ] He can't be her father because he's too young.[modal + bare inf. ]
Language Note
Nowadays, it is very common to use can with the meaning of "to have permission to do something," but some people feel that only may should be used for that meaning. They feel that can should only be used to describe ability to do something. When people accept the use of both can and may for the meaning of permission, they agree that may sounds more formal than can.