Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to: navigation, search
See also: konnen and Können



From Old High German kunnan, from Proto-Germanic *kunnaną, from Proto-Indo-European *ǵneh₃- (to know). Compare Low German könen, Dutch kunnen, English con, Danish kunne, Gothic 𐌺𐌿𐌽𐌽𐌰𐌽 (kunnan).


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


können (irregular, third-person singular simple present kann, past tense konnte, past participle können or gekonnt, 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.” or “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 notes[edit]

  • 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.)


Derived terms[edit]

Further reading[edit]