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From Middle French povoir, from Old French povoir, pooir, from early Old French poeir, from Vulgar Latin *potēre (to be able) 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.




  1. can, to be able to
    Je peux venir ce soir - I can come this evening
  2. may
    désastre qui peut nous frapper - disaster which may strike us


Usage notes[edit]

  • Pouvoir is not used with verbs relating to the five senses:
    I can see you - Je te vois (not Je peux te voir, which is "I can meet you")
  • It is also not used to mean can in the sense of "to know how to". Savoir is used instead.
    I can swim - Je sais nager (not Je peux nager)
  • In Belgian French, pouvoir is not used to say someone is capable of something, savoir is also used for that.
    Je ne sais pas dormir. - I am not able to sleep. to a Belgian, I do not know how to sleep. to a Frenchman.
    Je ne peux pas dormir. - I am not allowed to sleep. to a Belgian, I am not able to sleep. to a Frenchman.
  • Puis is the first person present indicative form used in inversion and as an archaic variant.

Related terms[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]