See also: konnen and Können



From Middle High German künnen, kunnen, from Old High German kunnan, from Proto-West Germanic *kunnan, from Proto-Germanic *kunnaną, from Proto-Indo-European *ǵneh₃- (to know).


  • IPA(key): /ˈkœnən/, [ˈkœnən], [ˈkœnn̩]
  • (file)


können (preterite-present, third-person singular present kann, past tense konnte, past participle gekonnt or (as an auxiliary verb) können, past subjunctive könnte, auxiliary haben)

  1. (auxiliary, with an infinitive, past participle: “können) to be able (to do something); can.
    Kannst du ihm helfen?Are you able to help him?
    Ich hätte das machen können.I could have done that.
  2. (auxiliary, with an infinitive, past participle: “können) to be allowed (to do something); to be permitted (to do something); may.
    Kann ich mitkommen?May I come along?
    Er hat nicht ins Kino gehen können.He was not allowed to go to the cinema.
  3. (transitive, past participle: “gekonnt) to know how to do (something); to know; to understand; to be able to do (something); to be capable of; can do (something).
    Ich kann Deutsch und Englisch.I know German and English.
    Kannst du es?Can you do it?
    Das hätte ich nicht gekonnt.I couldn’t have done that. / I wouldn’t have been capable of that.
  4. (intransitive, past participle: “gekonnt) to be able to do something implied; can.
    Nein, ich kann nicht.No, I can’t.
    Er hat gekonnt.He was able to [do it].
  5. (intransitive, colloquial, usually in negation) to be possible, to make sense
    Nächstes Jahr is’n Schaltjahr.Das kann nich’. Letztes Jahr war doch Schaltjahr!
    Next year is a leap year. – That’s not possible. Last year was a leap year!

Usage notesEdit

  • As with all modal verbs, the auxiliary können is used with a following bare infinitive (see examples above).
  • In the perfect tense, when können is used as an auxiliary verb, the past participle must be können (or more accurately speaking: the infinitive is used instead of the past participle). When used as a main verb, the past participle gekonnt is standard usage. However, especially among southern speakers, the infinitive may also occur (Er hat nicht können. Instead of more correct: Er hat nicht gekonnt.)
  • Unlike English, the use of können (can) for dürfen (may) is rarely ever frowned upon. In fact, können is preferable in some contexts. For example, when offering an empty seat next to one on a train, one would rather say: Sie können sich hier hinsetzen (You may come and sit here), because dürfen might sound condescending (as though one had a right to forbid it).


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