Word Explorer
Children's Dictionary


Language Note
part of speech: auxiliary verb
inflections: can, could
definition 1: to be able to; have the ability to.
She can play the piano.
similar words:
definition 2: to have the power or right to.
Only the boss can hire and fire employees.
definition 3: to have permission to.
Can I borrow your umbrella?
definition 4: used to express the possibility for something to happen or to be a certain way.
It can get very cold in this part of the country in January.You can't be hungry yet! You just ate a big lunch!
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.