from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate ability or permission in the past.
  • auxiliary verb Used with hypothetical or conditional force.
  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate tentativeness or politeness.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Preterit of can.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • imperative Was, should be, or would be, able, capable, or susceptible. Used as an auxiliary, in the past tense or in the conditional present.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb Simple past of can.
  • verb Used to politely ask for permission to do something.
  • verb Used to politely ask for someone else to do something.
  • verb Used to show the possibility that something might happen.
  • verb Used to suggest something.


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English coude, from Old English cuþ, preterite form of cunnan ("to be able"). The addition of the silent 'l' was likely a misappropriation attempting to normalize with modal verbs will/would and shall/should. However, while the letter l was historically pronounced in the latter two, can never did have an l sound in it.


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  • I used to always wonder why I could be so awful to my family my parents, my sister, and I think it's because I knew I *could* be so mean to them & they would always be there.

    The Other Side Of Anger 2009

  • I don't know if I could get you a gig there, but if I *could* would you want to?

    seanan_mcguire: A letter to the Great Pumpkin. seanan_mcguire 2009

  • This means that when we speak of a person's actions, in most cases he could have done otherwise, given the Stoics 'analysis of ˜could™ and other modal concepts.

    Stoicism Baltzly, Dirk 2008

  • Not outlandishly fast, but fast enough that adaptation could *could*–it is unclear be fairly difficult.

    SPM released « Climate Audit 2007

  • Yes priceless could be ..could be .. or worthless could also be .

    operation global media domination: didja miss me? « raincoaster 2006

  • Ben#17…a close friend of mine is in the same boat as your sister…and I agree….but notice—you even stated “could”…….that is what is the problem for most people…..could…I hope “will” can replace “could”….

    Think Progress » Bush Administration Invents New Excuse To Oppose Embryonic Stem Cell Research 2006

  • But a moment's further consideration convinced him that it could not be so: he _could_ move his body a little, although when he tried to sit up, something stopped him, pulled his spine straight, pulled his arms and shoulders back down from where he'd raised them.

    Asimov's Science Fiction 2005

  • From her promise once given she felt no change of purpose could absolve her; and therefore rarely would she give it absolutely, for she _could not_ alter the thing that had gone forth from her lips.

    The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 17, No. 104, June, 1866 Various

  • She could not -- _could_ not -- go to Paris with this man, who for all his devotion was a stranger to her.

    The Making of a Soul Kathlyn Rhodes

  • She did not wish to tell a falsehood, and yet she felt that she could not, _could_ not confess now.

    Ruth Arnold or, the Country Cousin Lucy Byerley


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