pouvoir

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French[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From Middle French povoir, from Old French povoir, pooir, from early Old French 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 potens. The v is an epenthetic consonant added to avoid hiatus.

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.

Pronunciation[edit]

Verb[edit]

pouvoir

  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 notes[edit]

  • 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…

Conjugation[edit]

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

Related terms[edit]

Noun[edit]

pouvoir m (plural pouvoirs)

  1. (countable or uncountable) power, a power.
  2. authority
  3. (law) power of attorney

Derived terms[edit]

Further reading[edit]