How to Conjugate the Verb pouvoir (can)

“Pouvoir” is a powerful verb. Once you know it, you can easily ask people to do something, and express what you can do.

Here is how to conjugate and use “pouvoir”.

Conjugation of pouvoir (can)

I voluntarily chose not to include tenses like “passé simple”, because unless you are interested in French literature, you won’t need it.

In fact, in my university, teachers often advise us to avoid using it, because very few French students know how to use “passé simple” properly.

You won’t find the “impératif” conjugation either, because it doesn’t exist for the verb “pouvoir”.

Present

Future

Imperfect

Je peuxpourraipouvais
Tu peuxpourraspouvais
Il/elle/on peutpourrapouvait
Nous pouvonspourronspouvions
Vous pouvezpourrezpouviez
Ils peuventpourrontpouvaient

Subjunctive

Conditional

Passé composé

Je puissepourraisai pu
Tu puissespourraisas pu
Il/elle/on puissepourraita pu
Nous puissionspourrionsavons pu
Vous puissiezpourriezavez pu
Ils puissentpourraientont pu

present participle

  
pouvant  
   
   

How to ask a question using the verb pouvoir

You have three ways to ask a question using the verb “pouvoir”:

  1. Est-ce que vous pouvez venir s’il vous plaît ?
  2. Pouvez-vous venir s’il vous plaît ?
  3. Vous pouvez venir s’il vous plaît ?

These three sentences all have the same meaning, “can you come please?”. But they are used in different situations.

You use the first and second sentences in formal conversations. The third sentence is a bit more informal. But since it’s used with “vous” (the formal you), it remains polite. If you are not sure which construction to use, use the first construction, you can not go wrong with it.

If you talk to a friend or someone you know well, you can use “tu” instead of “vous”. This means you need to conjugate “pouvoir” accordingly.

  1. Est-ce que tu peux venir s’il te plaît ?
  2. Peux-tu venir s’il te plaît ?
  3. tu peux venir s’il te plaît ?

You can notice that I also use “s’il te plaît” (the casual please) instead of “s’il vous plaît” (formal please).

In all cases, all you need to do to ask “can you…” is to choose one of these constructions, and use the verb of your choice instead of “venir” (to come).

Tu peux partir s’il te plaît ?

Can you leave please?

Est-ce que vous pouvez fermer la porte s’il vous plaît ?

Can you close the door please?

 How to use pouvoir to create sentences

Pouvoir is an amazing verb. Once you know how to use it, you can easily create hundreds of sentences. All you have to do is use the following construction:

Pronoun + pouvoir conjugated + infinitive verb

Je peux manger/I can eat

Tu peux dancer/you can dance

Il peut chanter/he can sing

Do you understand how it works now? Create your own sentence and post it in the comment section below this article.

French expressions and idioms using the verb pouvoir (can)

J’en peux plus

Literally: I can’t more

Meaning: I can’t stand it anymore/ I can’t do it anymore

You use “j’en peux plus” to say you can’t stand a situation anymore, or you are exhausted. You can only use this expression in an informal setting.

Mon patron me rend fou, j’en peux plus.

My boss drives me crazy, I can’t take it anymore.

Je suis trop fatigué, j’en peux plus.

I am too tired, I can’t continue.

In this sentence, what you can’t do anymore isn’t clearly expressed, so it depends on the context. It could be for example that you have been working all day, and are exhausted, so you say “j’en peux plus” to say you need to take a break.

Je n’y peux rien

Literally: I can’t nothing about it

Meaning: there is nothing I can do about it/it’s not my fault

You use this expression to say you are not responsible for something, or there is nothing you can do.

Je n’y peux rien si il pleut.

It’s not my fault if it’s raining/there is nothing I can do about the rain.

Over to you

Practice is essential if you want to become fluent in French. Create your own sentence with “pouvoir’ and post it in the comment section below this article.

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters. You will also find him giving blogging advice on Grow With Less.

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