Alternative formsEdit


From Middle French povoir, from Old French povoir, pooir, from earlier Old French podeir and poeir, from Vulgar Latin *potēre (to be able), *possō for Classical Latin posse, present active infinitive of possum. The Latin infinitive *potēre was a regularized form from the root potis (able) or formed on the basis of the present participle potēns. The v is an epenthetic consonant added to avoid hiatus. The archaic first-person singular present puis is rather from Vulgar Latin *posseō instead of *possō.

See cognates in regional languages in France: Bourguignon peuvoi, Champenois pouâr, Franc-Comtois povoi, Gallo pouair, Lorrain pouhoir, Norman pouveî, Picard puvoèr, Poitevin-Saintongeais pevoer, Franco-Provençal povêr and possêr, Occitan poder, Catalan poder, Corsican putè.


  • IPA(key): /pu.vwaʁ/
  • (file)
  • (Louisiana) IPA(key): [pu.wɒɾ]
  • Rhymes: -waʁ



  1. can, to be able to
    Je peux venir ce soir.I can come this evening.
  2. may
    désastre qui peut nous frapperdisaster which may strike us
  3. (impersonal, reflexive) to be possible; may, could be
    Il se peut que je sois malade.(literally) It could be that I'm ill / (more naturally) I may be ill. / I could be ill.

Usage notesEdit

  • Pouvoir is not used with verbs relating to the five senses:
    Je te voisI (can) see you
    (not “Je peux te voir”, which is “I can see (i.e. meet) you”)
  • It is also not used to mean can (to know how to), savoir is used instead.
    Je sais nagerI can swim
    (not “Je peux nager”)
  • In Belgian French, pouvoir is not used to say someone is capable of something, savoir is used instead.
    Je ne sais pas dormirI am not able to sleep
    ("I do not know how to sleep" in France)
    Je ne peux pas dormirI am not allowed to sleep
    ("I am not able to sleep" in France)
  • Puis (/pɥi/) is an archaic form of the first person present indicative peux. It is still used in inversion or with the conjunction si:
    Puis-je vous aider?May I help you?
    Si je puis me permettre…If you don't mind…


This verb is impersonal and is conjugated only in the third-person singular.

Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit


pouvoir m (plural pouvoirs)

  1. (countable or uncountable) power
    prendre le pouvoirto take power, to seize power
  2. authority
  3. (law) power of attorney

Derived termsEdit

Further readingEdit