Pouvoir

The irregular verb pouvoir (to be able to, can) is a shoe verb in the present tense and has two forms for je. Puis‐je is often used in questions:

je peux (puis)

nous pouvons

tu peux

vous pouvez

il peut

ils peuvent


The use of the verb pouvoir:

May express ability or success or the lack thereof

  • Je peux cuisiner. (I can cook.)
  • Il n'a pas pu réussir. (He couldn't succeed or He wasn't able to succeed.)
  • Pourras‐tu conduire? (Will you be able to drive?)

May express possibility or permissibility

  • Est‐ce que je peux y aller? (May I go there? or Am I allowed to go there?)
  • Puis‐je aller au cinéma? (May I go to the movies?)
  • Il peut le faire maintenant. (He may be able to do it now.)

May express a suggestion

  • Je pourrais venir te chercher. (I could come pick you up.)

May express obligation when an infinitive is negated

  • Tu peux ne pas venir. (You don't need to come or You aren't obligated to come.)

Expresses “might” or “could” in the conditional

  • Je pourrais l'aider. (I could help him [her] or I might help him [her].)

Can be idiomatic

  • n'en pouvoir plus (to be exhausted)
  • Je n'en peux plus. (I'm exhausted.)
  • n'y pouvoir rien (to be unable to do something about it)
  • On n'y peut rien. (It can't be helped.)
  • Je n'y peux rien. (I can't do anything about it.)