1 strong verb (modal verb)
1 to be able to: He's so tall he can touch the ceiling. | This machine can perform two million calculations per second. | I can't remember where I put it. | They have everything that money can buy. | The police still haven't found her but they're doing all they can.
2 spoken used when asking someone to do something or give you something: Can I have a cigarette please? | Can you help me lift this box?
3 especially spoken to have permission to do something or to be allowed to do something: You can't play football here. | "Can we go home now please?" "No you can't." | The goalkeeper can't handle the ball outside the penalty area (=it is against the rules)
4 to have a particular skill or know how to do a particular activity: Gabriella can speak French, Russian, and Italian. | Can you drive?
5 used to show what is possible or likely: I am confident that a solution can be found. | There can be no doubt that he is guilty. | The word "bank" can have several different meanings. | Can he still be alive after all this time?
6 used with verbs connected with the five senses and with verbs connected with thinking: I can hear you easily from here. | You can really taste the garlic in that soup. | I can't understand why you're so upset. | You can imagine how annoyed she was!
7 (usually in questions and negatives) used especially when you think there is only one possible answer to a question or one possible thing to do in a particular situation: Jill's left her husband but can you blame her after the way he treated her? | It's a very kind offer, but I really can't accept it.
8 to have to do something; must: If you won't keep quiet you can get out.
9 used especially in expressions of surprise: What can it possibly be? | You can't be serious! | They can't have arrived already surely!
10 used to show what sometimes happens or how someone sometimes behaves: It can be quite cold here at night. | Gerard can be annoying, I know.
USAGE NOTE: CAN WORD CHOICE: can, may, could, might, be allowed to, let, do/would you mind if..., be able to In everyday conversation, can is used much more commonly than may to talk about permission: You can go now (=you are allowed to go). Some people say that may is more correct, however its use tends to be limited to formal contexts. When talking about permission in the past, people often use was/were allowed to or change the sentence and use let: He was allowed to leave at ten. | I let him leave at ten (=I allowed him to go and he did). When you are asking permission, could (also might, especially in American English) is often used instead of can because it seems less direct and more polite: Could I borrow your car? May is more formal, and is used especially by officials. For example at an airport: May I see your passport, madam? In everyday English people often say: Do/would you mind if... or Is it alright if... when asking permission: Do you mind if I smoke? Can is also used to say that you have the ability to do something: I can swim now (=I am able to swim). To talk about something you will have the ability to do in the future, you use will be able to: I'll be able to speak better if I practise more. For past ability either could or was/were able to is used, but sometimes with slightly different meaning. Could often suggests more someone's ability that they had for some time (but perhaps did not use): I could swim when I was eight (=I knew how to). She couldn't buy a ticket (=She didn't have enough money). Was/were able to may suggest more that the situation allowed someone to do something (perhaps with effort): By arriving at two I was able to swim for an hour (=The pool was open long enough to allow this). I wasn't able to buy a ticket (=There were none left/I didn't manage to get one). Used to be able to is used to talk about something that you could do before, but can no longer do now: He used to be able to run a 100 metres in under 10 seconds, but he's getting a bit old these days. When you are talking about something that is not certain, you often use may, or, with more doubt, might or could: The road may/might/could be blocked (=Perhaps/It is possible the road is blocked). The road could be blocked (=It is possible to block the road). For past time may have/might have/could have are used: There may have been an accident (Perhaps there was an accident). Might or could have would be more often used here when we now know that there was no accident Can is usually used to ask whether something is possible: Can this really be true? (=Is it possible this is true?) and to say that something is not possible: That can't be true. Again could shows more doubt (and is commoner in American English): Could that really be true? Can is often used with verbs related to the senses and the mind, such as see, hear, feel, believe: Look at this photo - can you see somebody famous in it? GRAMMAR Remember can, could, may and might are NEVER used with the to infinitive of a verb: I can help you (NOT I can to help you).). 2 noun (C)
1 a metal container in which food or drink is preserved without air: a Coke can
(+ of): All we've got is a couple of cans of soup.
2 a special metal container that keeps the liquid inside it under pressure, releasing it as a spray 2 (1) when you press the button the lid: a can of hairspray
3 especially AmE a metal container with a lid that can be removed, used for holding liquid: Two large cans of paint ought to be enough.
4 can of worms a very complicated situation that causes a lot of problems when you start to deal with it: I just don't know what to do - every solution I can think of would just open up a whole new can of worms.
5 in the can informal a film that is in the can is complete and ready to be shown
6 the can slang
a) a prison
b) AmE a toilet
-see also: carry the can carry 1 (31) 3 verb canned, canning (T) especially AmE
1 to preserve food by putting it into a metal container from which all the air is removed; tin 3 BrE
-see also: canned (1)
2 AmE informal to dismiss someone from a job; sack 2 (1)
3 can it! AmE spoken used to tell someone to stop talking or making noise

Longman dictionary of contemporary English. 2004.

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