Meaning of CAN in English

I. _kən, (|)kan; esp after a stressed vowel _k ə ŋ; esp in NewEng (|) ke(ə)n; esp dial (|) kin verb

( past could _kəd, (|) ku̇d ; or archaic second singular (with “thou”) couldst _kətst; (|) ku̇dzt, -u̇dst, -u̇tst ; present singular & plural can or archaic second singular (with “thou”) canst _kənzt, (|) kan-, -n(t)st)

Etymology: Middle English, know, know how, am able (1st & 3d singular present indicative of cunnen, past coude, couthe ), from Old English can, con (infin. cunnan, past cūthe ); akin to Old High German kan know, am able (infin. kunnan ), Old Norse kann (infin. kunna ), Gothic kann know (infin. kunnan ), Old English cnāwan to know — more at know

transitive verb

1. obsolete : know , understand

most of the inhabitants can no word of Cornish — Richard Carew

2. : to be able to do, make, or accomplish

the will of Him who all things can — John Milton

intransitive verb

archaic : to have knowledge or skill — used with following of

thou canst well of woodcraft — Sir Walter Scott

verbal auxiliary


a. : know how to : have the skill to

he can read

she can play the piano

b. : be physically or mentally able to

he can lift 200 pounds

I can tell red from green

c. : may perhaps : may possibly

do you think he can still be living

it could be true

d. : have the necessary courage or resolution to

he can accept defeat without complaining

e. : be permitted by conscience or feeling to

can hardly blame him

I can forgive anything but that

f. : be made possible or probable by circumstances to

he can hardly have meant that

I could cry for shame

g. : be inherently able or designed to

everything that money can buy

this car can hold five persons

h. : be logically or axiologically able to

2 + 2 can also be written 3 + 1

we can reasonably conclude from this that such is the case

i. : be enabled by law, agreement, or custom to : have a right to

only the House can originate financial measures

j. : have permission to — used interchangeably with may

you can go now if you like

— see could

2. dialect : to be able to — used as infinitive

I may can go

he'll can tell us — Alexander Wardrop

II. ˈkan, -aa(ə)n noun

( -s )

Etymology: Middle English canne, from Old English; akin to Old High German channa, Old Norse kanna; all perhaps from a prehistoric North Germanic-West Germanic word borrowed from Late Latin canna, a vessel, from Latin, reed; from the long thin spout of certain ancient vessels — more at cane

1. : a receptacle (as for holding liquids) usually cylindrical in shape:

a. : a vessel for holding or carrying water, wine, beer, or other liquids

I have brought thee in this can fresh water from the brook — William Wordsworth

specifically : a drinking vessel

in his hand did bear a boozing can — Edmund Spenser

— compare cannikin

b. : a cylindrical metal receptacle usually with an open top, often with a removable cover, and sometimes with a spout or side handles (as for holding milk, oil, coffee, tobacco, ashes, or garbage)

c. : a single-trip tinplate container in which perishable foods or other products are hermetically sealed for preservation until use — called also tin

d. : a glass or earthenware jar with an airtight cover used for packing or preserving fruit or vegetables in the home

we put up a dozen cans of tomatoes last fall

e. : a small usually cylindrical container made of paper or paper compound — compare composite can , fiber can


a. : a steam-heated hollow metal cylinder over which cloth is passed to be dried

b. : a hollow cylindrical combustion chamber of an airplane engine

c. : an air cleaner for a carburetor

3. slang : jail

4. : toilet 5 — not often in formal use

5. slang : buttocks, seat

6. : depth charge

7. : destroyer 2

- in the can

III. ˈkan, -aa(ə)n transitive verb

( canned ; canned ; canning ; cans )


a. : to put in a can ; especially : to preserve by sealing in airtight cans or jars

b. : to hit (a golf ball) into the cup : hole

2. slang : to expel especially from school : discharge especially from employment

they canned him within a month of his arrival

3. slang : to put a stop or end to : refrain from

can the chatter


a. : to enclose completely (as a pump or motor) in a housing

b. : to seal hermetically (as an oil tank or a package enclosed in metal foil)

5. : to record (as a singing voice) on discs or tape

he wouldn't let me can his voice — J.A.Lomax

laughter canned for comedy programs

IV. (|)kan verbal auxiliary

Etymology: Middle English, alteration of gan, past of ginnen to begin — more at gin

obsolete : did

with gentle words he can her fairly greet — Edmund Spenser



variant of khan

VI. ˈkan, -aa(ə)n noun

( -s )

Etymology: by shortening

: canvasback duck

VII. abbreviation

1. canceled; cancellation

2. canon

3. canto

4. cantoris

VIII. noun

slang : an ounce of marijuana

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.