会, 能 and 可以

In Chinese, we use different words to express “can”: 会 (huì), 能(néng) and 可以 (kěyǐ). In Chinese, they are all known as auxiliary verbs. What is the difference?

1. 会 has the implied meaning of “knowing how to”. Following 会 are often learned or acquired skills. It can be modified by adverbs such as 很 (hěn), meaning “very”.

S VP
huì dǎ lánqiú.
打 篮球。

I can play basketball.

lǐtíng huì tán gāngqín.
李婷 弹 钢琴。

Li Ting can play the piano.

liúmíng (hěn) huì wán yóuxì.
刘明 (很) 会 玩游戏。

Liu Ming is (very) good at playing games.

会 also has the meaning of “will/shall”. i.e. anticipated or possible occurrence of future events, or expressing confident predictions. eg:

jìzhě huì pāidào nǐ.
记者 拍到 你。

The reporter will take a photo of you.

lǎobǎn (míngtiān) huì gàosù nǐ.
老板 (明天) 会 告诉 你。

The boss will tell you (tomorrow).

2. 能 “able to”, indicates possibility due to circumstantial factors.

S VP
zhāngzǒng (xiàwǔ) néng kāihuì.
张总 (下午) 能 开会。

Manager Zhang is able to attend the meeting this afternoon.

néng guòlái yíxià ma?
过来 一下 吗?

Could you come over here?

3. 可以 “may”, is used to express the meaning of “permission”.

S 可以 VP
mǎlù biān bù kěyǐ tíngchē.
马路 边 不 可以 停车。

You may not park at the roadside!

kěyǐ zuòxià ma?
可以 坐下 吗?

May I sit down?

可以 can also suggest an alternative approach or solution to a problem.

nǐ méiyǒu chīfàn ma? wǒ kěyǐ gěinǐ zhǔmiàntiáo.

你 没有 吃饭 吗?我 可以 给你 煮面条。

Haven’t you eaten yet? I can cook noodles for you.

cài yǐjīng liángle,kěyǐ jiārè yíxià.

菜 已经 凉了,可以 加热 一下。

The dish is getting cold. You can heat it up.

rúguǒ méidài xiànjīn,kěyǐ shuākǎ.

如果 没带 现金,可以 刷卡。

If you have no cash, you can pay with card.

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