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kě yǐ
av. can, may
Discussion of 可以
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可以 can be used to indicate "ability/capability", "possibility" and "permission" depending on the contexts. In this post, we discuss the differences and similarities of 可以 and 能.

1. 可以 indicates that the ability reaches a certain degree, level or proficiency. In this case, 可以 and 能 are interchangeable:
Example 1. 他可以一口气喝完一瓶啤酒。 He can drink a whole bottle of beer in one gulp.
We can also say 他能一口气喝完一瓶啤酒。
* Attention: when it means "be good at doing something", only 能 can be used. 可以 is wrong in this meaning.
Example *.他很能团结周围的人。 He is very good at uniting the people around him.

2.可以 can be used to indicate "possibility".
Example 2a. 你什么时候可以/能开始工作?When would you be available to start work ?
Example 2b. 这种药可以/能治心脏病。This medicine can be used to treat heart diseases.
However, if we put 不 in 2b and transform the sentence into a negation, then we can only use 不能.
Example 2b 不: 这种药不能治心脏病。This medicine cannot be used to treat heart diseases.

3. 可以 can be used to indicate permission. To be more specific: asking for permission, giving permission or forbidding, indicating a suggestion.
Example 3a Asking for permission: 我可以/能试吗? May I try it?
Example 3b Giving permission: Speaker A - 我可以/能试吗? May I try it? Speaker B - 可以。Yes, (you can).
Example 3c Forbidding: 考试不可以/不能用铅笔,必须用钢笔。In the exam, one cannot use a pencil, and one must use a pen.
Example 3d Making a suggestion: 你可以给我发短信。You can send a message to me.
* Attention: 能 can also used to indicate permission, however, it is more limited than 可以. We can use 能 in a question (3a) and a negative sentence (3c). Usually 能 does not appear in an affirmative sentence such as 3d.
In this post, we explore the similarities and differences of 可以 and 可.

可 [verb] can, may; need (doing), be worth (doing)
1. can, may
Example 1a.时间可化解一切仇恨。(can be replaced by 可以)
Example 1b.他们可参加这次活动。(can be replaced by 可以)
Example 1c.这次活动不太重要,你可去可不去。(can be replaced by 可以 but it might sound a bit redundant, so we add a comma and 也: “你可以去,也可以不去”)
Example 1d.可供效仿、由此可见 (cannot be replaced by 可以,because these are four-character fixed phrases)
2. need (doing)
Example 2a.没什么可担心的。 (cannot be replaced by 可以)
3. be worth (doing)
Example 3a.图书馆可借的书很多。(can be replaced by 可以)
Example 3b.可爱、可靠(these are words, so 可 cannot be replaced by 可以)

可以 [verb] be worth (doing); (indicating possibility, capability) can, may, be able; (permission) can, may
1. be worth (doing)
Example 1a.那个花园不太大,但是还可以去看看。 (cannot be replaced by 可)
2. (possibility or capability) can, may, be able
Example 2a.可以理解、可以断言、可以预见、可以这么说、可以讨论 (cannot be replaced by 可)
3. (permission) can, may
Example 3a.车里不可以抽烟 (can be replaced by 可, but 可以 sounds better here)
Example 3b.现在你可以走了、你不可以进去 (cannot be replaced by 可)
Example 3c. - 我可以走了吗? - 不可以。(when independently used to offer a negative answer to a question, we can only use 可以, so here 可以 cannot be replaced by 可)
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