Dictionary Suite


Language Note, Grammatical Patterns
part of speech: auxiliary verb
inflections: can, could
definition 1: to have the ability to.
She can play the piano beautifully.[modal verb + bare infinitive ] Can you swim?[modal verb + bare infinitive ] I can't cook, so I eat out a lot.[modal verb + bare infinitive ]
similar words:
definition 2: to have the power or right to.
Only the boss can hire and fire employees.[modal verb + bare infinitive ]
definition 3: to have permission to.
Can I come in?[modal verb + bare infinitive ] You can't smoke anywhere in the hospital.[modal verb + bare infinitive ]
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 verb + bare infinitive ] He can't be her father because he's too young.[modal verb + bare infinitive ]
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.