Can, is expressed in three different ways.
When learning Chinese, you’ll often come across words that have one common meaning, but several other definitions. Or, the same meaning but different usages. Néng, Huì and Kěyǐ are three words that fall into this category. 能, 会 and 可以 are generally used interchangeably to express “Can”. However, 能 , 会 and 可以 also each have unique distinctions. Depending on the context, one of these verbs is more suitable than another. In today’s article, we’ll explain the differences between them and give you some example sentences.
Can with 能
Néng is easy to distinguish from the other two. Although they are generally used interchangeably, Néng also has a specific meaning and usage. Néng is about capability and possibility. It doesn’t just mean you can do, it also means what you are capable of doing and how possible it is to do it. If you want to say that something might be possible or that you have the capacity to do something this would be the most appropriate word. Here are some example sentences:
Wǒ néng bāngmáng ma ？
Can I help?
Wèn tā shìfǒu néng lái
Ask him if he can come
Nǐ néng kàndào xiē shénme ma ？
Can you see anything?
Bonus: If you combine 可 and 能 together you make 可能 which means perhaps.
Can with 会
Huì is pretty much interchangeable with Néng. They both mean to be able to do something. So, what are the differences? They are different when it comes to possibility. Néng express that something might be possible, however when using Huì something is already possible. In this instance, Huì is more about ability, rather potential capability. Here are some example sentences:
Wǒ búhuì xià xiàngqí.
I can’t play chess.
Wǒ huì tì nǐ zuò de
I’ll do it for you
Wǒ hěn huì shājià.
I’m a very good bargainer.
Can with 可以
Kěyǐ is used to express capability and ability. However, it has additional usage which is very different from Néng and Huì. Kěyǐ is used when asking for or granting permission. For example, in English it would be the equivalent of saying “Can you [do something] for me?”, or “Am I allowed to [do something]?”. In this instance, it’s not about capabilities it’s about whether there is permission to do something. Here are some example sentences:
Biérén néng zuòdào de，nǐ yě kěyǐ.
If other people can do it, so can you.
Nǐ kěyǐ zǒu, yě kěyǐ liúxià.
Either you can go or you can stay.
Wǒ kěyǐ zuòxià ma ？
Would it be all right if I sat down?
We hope you found today’s article useful! When reading, listening and speaking always pay attention to how these two words are used. You can also find examples of 一直 and 一向 through our Chinese Languages news articles on the Chairman’s Bao Platform. If you have any burning Chinese Grammar questions we will answer them on our Quora, we’ll be happy to help!