Definitions

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.

Etymologies

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.

Examples

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