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Alternative forms[edit]


Inherited from Middle French povoir, from Old French povoir, pooir, from earlier Old French poeir, podeir, from Vulgar Latin potēre, regularization of Latin posse. The /-v-/ was eventually added, after the loss of the intervocalic dental, to break hiatus. The archaic 1SG present indicative puis is from a Vulgar Latin *posseō (rather than possō), for which cf. Old Catalan puix.


  • 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.
    • 2018, Zaz (lyrics and music), “Nos Vies”:
      On est des étoiles dans ce ciel bleu clair et on mettra les voiles quand on pourra le faire.
      We are stars in that clear blue sky, and we will set sail when we can.
  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”)
  • Regarding the use of pouvoir and savoir, three sub-senses must be distinguished:
    • Savoir is used for “know how to do something, have learnt something”.
      Je sais nager.I can swim. / I know how to swim. / I've learnt to swim.
    • Pouvoir is generally used for “be currently capable of doing something”, but Belgian French uses savoir.
      Je ne peux pas dormir. (France) / Je ne sais pas dormir. (Belgium)I can't sleep. / I'm not currently able to fall asleep.
    • Pouvoir is always used for “be free, allowed, unhindered to do something”.
      Je ne peux pas sortir.I can't go out. / I'm not allowed to go out. / Something prevents me from going out.
  • 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 terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


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 terms[edit]