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Dutch Verb kunnen ('can,' 'to be able to') - Smartphones Page

Conjugation
Three Meanings
Sample Sentences:
to Be Able
to Be Possible
to Be Allowed to
Related Words
Overview:
kunnen 'can,' 'to be able to'
ik kan I can
wij kunnen we can
ik kon I could
wij konden we could
ik heb gekund I have been able to
click to hear
The vowel change between singular and plural in the present tense is very unusual. Compare to the similar conjugation of the auxiliary verb of the future tense 'zullen' click to hear ->>
Also note the D added in the plural of the simple past tense.

The Complete Conjugation

The Simple Present Tense:
kunnen 'can,' 'to be able to'
ik kan I can
jij kunt you (singular, informal you) can
hij kan he can
wij kunnen we can
jullie kunnen you (plural, informal you) can
zij kunnen they can
U kunt you (polite you) can
click to hear
'Jij kan' click to hear 2 and 'U kan' are also correct.
Note that the present tense has no T-ending for third person singular and in the 'alternate' for the second person singular - like English also doesn't say 'he cans.'

The Simple Past Tense:

(kunnen) 'can,' 'to be able to'
ik kon I could, was able to
jij kon you could, were able to
hij kon he could, was able to
wij konden we could, were able to
jullie konden y'all could, were able to
zij konden they could, were able to
U kon you could, were able to
click to hear

The Perfect Tense:
ik heb gekund click to hear I have been able to (very unusual)

Three Meanings

Dutch 'kunnen' and English 'can' usually mean 'to be able' or 'to be possible' ("it's possible.") Occasionally, 'can' and 'kunnen' mean 'to be allowed to' ("it's OK") - subtly different and sometimes overlapping meanings. Study the sample lines for a better understanding.
Compare with 'mogen' click to hear 2 ('may,' 'to be allowed to') that has similar irregularities and problems.

'Can' / 'Kunnen' - to Be Able

Ik kan 't niet vinden click to hear 2 3
I can't find it

Ik kan niet zien waar het lekt click to hear
I can't see where it leaks, where the leak is

Ik kan er niet meer tegen click to hear 2 3
I can't stand it anymore

Ik kan het niet meer bijhouden click to hear 2
I [can no longer] can't keep up (with it)

Ik kan niet heksen click to hear 2 3
[I cannot 'witch'] - I'm working as fast as I can

Het enige voorbeeld dat ik kan bedenken click to hear
The only example I can think of
Ik kan zo gauw geen voorbeeld bedenken click to hear 2 3
I cannot think of an example [that quickly] right away

Je kon heel ver zien click to hear
[You could see very far] - Visibility was excellent
Je kon niet ver zien click to hear
[You couldn't see far] - Viz was low

Ik kon vannacht niet slapen click to hear
Last night I couldn't sleep
Ik kon gisteren niet slapen click to hear 2
Yesterday I couldn't sleep
Ik kon gisteren niet inslapen click to hear
Yesterday I had trouble falling asleep

Ik kan er helaas niet zelf bij zijn click to hear
Unfortunately, I cannot [be there myself / in person] be present

Hij kan erg hard fietsen click to hear 2
[He can ride a bike very fast] - He is very fast on a bike
Toen ik z'n fiets optilde begreep ik hoe hij zo hard kon rijden click to hear 2 3 4
When I picked up his bike I understood how he was able to ride that fast

Ze konden het niet bewijzen click to hear 2
They could not prove it

Ik kon m'n oren niet geloven click to hear 2 3
'I couldn't believe my ears' - expression meaning 'hearing something totally unexpected and unbelievable'

Als blikken konden doden ... click to hear 2
If looks could kill ...

Ik kan 't niet verklaren click to hear 2
I can't explain (it) - I don't understand
Ik kan 't niet uitleggen click to hear 2
I can't explain (it) - I can't tell you
Ik kan er niet bij click to hear 2 3
literally: 'I can't reach it, it's out of reach' - but usually meaning figuratively: 'I don't understand it' (people's behavior)
Ik begrijp 't niet click to hear
I don't understand (it)
't Gaat me boven de pet click to hear 2
It's over my head - I don't understand it (Maybe I am not intelligent enough?)

Je kunt wel zien uit welke hoek de wind waait click to hear 2
['You can [see] tell from which direction the wind is blowing'] - expression meaning 'you can tell who or what is behind that'

Waarin een klein land groot kan zijn click to hear
[In what a small country can be big] Big things a small country can do - said when Holland sets an example

Hij kan geen wijs houden click to hear 2
He cannot carry a tune

Wat kan ik voor U doen? click to hear 2
[What can I do for you?] - How can I help you?

Je kunt er op rekenen click to hear
You can count (rely, depend) on it

Ik kan er niks aan doen click to hear
[I can't do anything about it] - I can't help it --or-- It's not my fault
Ik kan 't niet helpen click to hear
I can't help it - I'm powerless to resist it

Kun je er wat aan doen? click to hear 2 3
Can you do something about it?
Wat kun je d'r aan doen? click to hear 2 3 4
What can you do about it?

Dutch 'kunnen' as 'to be able' is sometimes translated by 'to do' in English:

Ik spreek geen Nederlands ... click to hear 2
I don't speak Dutch ...
... maar ik kan het wel verstaan click to hear
... but I [can] do understand it

Ik kan wel Nederlands verstaan click to hear 2
Ik kan Nederlands wel verstaan click to hear
But I [can] do understand Dutch

Kan jij Deens verstaan? click to hear 2 3
Do you understand (spoken) Danish?
Kun je Russisch lezen? click to hear 2 3
Do you read Russian? Do you understand written Russian?

Ik kan je niet verstaan click to hear 2
I don't understand (what you're saying)
Ik kan het niet goed verstaan click to hear
['I don't understand it well ...'] - I have difficulty understanding (what is said)
Ik begrijp niet wat U zegt click to hear 2 3
I don't understand what you mean, I don't understand the meaning of your words (polite U)

Ik kan me 't niet herinneren click to hear 2
Ik kan 't me niet herinneren click to hear
I don't remember (it)

Hij kan nauwelijks nog lopen click to hear 2
He can barely walk anymore
Hij kon nauwelijks nog lopen click to hear 2
He could barely walk anymore

In the next two 'kunnen' examples Dutch leaves out the 'doen,' but in a stand-alone sentence English usually can't ("Can we bring about change?" - "Yes we can")

Kun jij dat? click to hear 2 / Kan jij dat? click to hear
Can you do that? Are you able to do that? Do you have the skill?

Niet iedereen kan dat click to hear 2 3 4 5
Not everyone [is able to] can do that

Dat kan geen kwaad click to hear 2 3
['That does no evil'] - That can't hurt (go ahead, try it)

Sometimes 'can/be able' is left out in English:

Dan kunnen we elkaar eindelijk echt ontmoeten click to hear 2
[Then we'll finally be able to meet in the real world] - Then we'll finally meet in the flesh

Ik kan me d'r zo kwaad over maken click to hear 2
[I can [make myself] get so angry about it] - actually meaning: 'It makes me very angry'

Toch konden ze goed samenwerken click to hear
[Despite it all, they were able to work together well] - Still, they worked together well

Ik kan goed opschieten met Jan click to hear 2 3
I get on well with Jan

'Can' / 'Kunnen' - to Be Possible

In the "it's possible" meaning English sometimes uses 'may' or the past tense of 'can' where Dutch has the present tense of 'kunnen'

't Kan vriezen en 't kan dooien click to hear
'It's possible that there will be a freeze and it's possible that there will be a thaw' -'It may freeze and it may thaw' - expression meaning things can go either way

Hoe kan dat nou? click to hear 2 3 4
How can that be? How is it possible?
Dat kan toch niet! click to hear 2 3
[That cannot be!] How can it be? It shouldn't be possible!

Hoe kan 't gebeuren? click to hear 2
[How is it possible that things like that happen?] - How can it be?
't Kan gebeuren click to hear 2
It can happen - Things like that happen

't Kan niet ontkend worden click to hear 2
It cannot be denied (it's true)

Hoe kan iemand zoiets doen? click to hear
How can someone do a thing like that? How is it possible for someone to do something awful like that?

Je kunt zo-iemand niet serieus nemen click to hear 2 3
You can't take a person like that seriously

Kan het zijn dat ik U ken? click to hear
['Could it be that I know you?'] - Have we met before?
Slang: Ken 't zijn dat ik U kan? click to hear

't Kan wel waar zijn ... click to hear 2
[It is possible that that is true, but ...] - It may be true, but ...

Waarom kan 't niet gemakkelijk zijn? click to hear 2
Why can't it be easy?
Waarom moet 't zo moeilijk zijn? click to hear 2
Why does it have to be so difficult?

't Is niet fout ... click to hear 2
It's not wrong ...
... maar je kunt 't eenvoudiger zeggen click to hear 2 3
... but [you can say it more simply] there's a simpler way to say it

't Kan ooit nog van pas komen click to hear 2 3
It could come in handy someday

Kan ik de afspraak verzetten? click to hear 2
Could I, is it possible to [move] reschedule the appointment?

Je kunt niet alles weten click to hear 2
You can't, it's not possible to know everything

Kun je op de fiets naar je werk? click to hear 2
Can you ride a bike to work?

Je kunt nergens beter Nederlands horen click to hear
You can't hear better Dutch anywhere, it's not possible
Ik kan me vergissen click to hear 2 (3 4)
It's possible I'm mistaken, I may be wrong

Misschien kunnen we wel buiten zitten click to hear
Maybe we can sit outside (the weather looks promising)

Ik weet niet wie het geweest kan zijn click to hear 2
I don't know who it could have been
Ik weet niet wat het geweest kan zijn click to hear 2
I don't know what it could have been

Je kunt door de bomen 't bos niet zien click to hear 2 3
You can't see the forest for the trees - focusing on details makes you lose sight of the big picture

Je kunt er niet omheen click to hear 2 3
['You can't pass around it'] - expression meaning 'you can't ignore it, you'll have to deal with it'

Je kunt er geen touw aan vastknopen click to hear 2
['You can't tie a rope to it'] - expression meaning 'it's impossible to understand' or 'it doesn't make sense'

Ik wilde dat ik harder kon schoppen click to hear
I wish that I could kick harder (soccer)

De mens kan niet alleen van brood leven click to hear 2
Man cannot live by bread alone

Kun je ervan rondkomen? click to hear
Can you get by on it? Is there enough money in it to live on?

Wie kun je nog vertrouwen? click to hear 2 3
Who can you still trust?

Je kunt je d'r geen buil aan vallen click to hear
Daar kun je je geen buil aan vallen click to hear
['You cannot possbibly fall and get hurt from that'] - expressions meaning 'It's only small amount of money,' said to people worrying about a minor expense

'Zou' click to hear 2 is the singular of the 'past tense' of the auxiliary verb for the future tense 'zullen' click to hear - used when speaking about hypothetical or speculative situations.

't Zou kunnen click to hear 2
It could be, It's possible
't Zou kunnen zijn click to hear 2
It could be, It's possible
't Zou kunnen zijn dat ... click to hear 2
It could be that ..., It's possible that ...
Zou 't kunnen zijn dat ...? click to hear 2
Could it be that ...? Is it possible that ...?
Wat zou 't kunnen zijn? click to hear 2
What could it be?
Dat zou je ook kunnen doen click to hear 2 3
[You could do that] - That's something you could do
Zou U wat langzamer kunnen praten? click to hear 2
[Could you, would it be possible ...] - Would you mind speaking somewhat slower?
Er is geen reden waarom hij niet zou kunnen winnen click to hear
There is no reason why he couldn't win

'Had' click to hear is the singular of the past tense of the auxiliary verb for the perfect tense 'hebben' click to hear -- 'had kunnen' click to hear 2 is usually translated in English as 'could have' and the phrase 'had kunnen zijn' click to hear 2 -- 'could have been' -- usually refers to something that didn't happen, either a missed chance or a lucky escape.

Wat had kunnen zijn click to hear 2
What could have been

Ik had kunnen weten dat ... click to hear 2
I could have known that ... (regret at something I forgot to think of)

Ik had kunnen weten dat 't slecht zou aflopen click to hear 2 3
I could have known that it would end badly
Dat kan niet goed gaan click to hear 2
['That cannot go well'] - That's not going to end well

We hadden 't kunnen voorkomen click to hear 2
We could have prevented it

't Had erger kunnen zijn click to hear 2 3 4
It could have been worse
't Had zoveel mooier kunnen zijn click to hear 2 3
[It could have been so much more beautiful] - usually said when something disappoints or doesn't work out

't Is niet vies ... click to hear 2 3
It doesn't taste bad ...
Maar 't had lekkerder kunnen zijn click to hear 2
But it could have been better (-tasting)

Polite requests and respectful questions are often started with 'Kun je' click to hear 2 3 or 'Kunt U' click to hear 2

Kunt U mij zeggen wanneer de laatste trein gaat? click to hear 2 3 4
Could you please tell me what time the last train leaves?

Kun je me zeggen hoe laat het begint? click to hear 2 3
Could you tell me what time it starts? Do you know when it starts?

Kun je 't omschrijven? click to hear 2
Could you describe it? (They don't know the right word)

Kun je me om zeven uur wakker maken? click to hear 2 3
Could you wake me up at seven?

Kunt U dat nog eens zeggen? click to hear
Would you mind saying that again?

Dutchmen often use the word mogelijk click to hear 2 (mogelijke click to
 hear) 'possible' where English would more often use the verb 'can'
Hoe is 't mogelijk? click to hear 2 3 4 5 6
How is it possible? How can it be?
(de) mogelijkheid click to hear 2 3 'possibility'
onmogelijk click to hear 2 'impossible'
zo mogelijk click to hear 2 'if possible'
zo lang mogelijk click to hear 2
as long as possible
zo spoedig mogelijk click to hear 2
as soon as possible
met alle mogelijke middelen click to hear 2
with all possible means
't Is haast onmogelijk click to hear 2 3
It's almost impossible
Als ongewenst kind vind ik dat abortus mogelijk moet zijn click to hear 2 3
[Being an ...] As an unwanted child I think abortion should be [possible] available

'Can' / 'Kunnen' - to Be Allowed to

When 'Can' / 'Kunnen' mean 'to be allowed to' you can often also use 'May' / 'mogen' click to hear 2 ->>

Jullie kunnen wel Nederlands praten click to hear 2 3
It's OK for you to speak Dutch ("I can understand it, I won't feel shut out")
- You could just as well say:
Jullie mogen wel Nederlands praten click to hear 2

Ik kan geen rundvlees eten click to hear 2
[I'm not allowed to] I can't eat beef (doctor's orders, religion etc.)

Dat kun je me niet aandoen! click to hear 2 3
You can't do that to me! (You're going to hurt my feelings)

We kunnen niet zo doorgaan click to hear 2 3 4
We can't [continue] go on like this - it's going wrong

Je kunt wel blijven eten click to hear 2 3
You can stay for dinner (or other meals)

Je kunt nog even blijven liggen click to hear 2
['You can remain lying down for a moment'] - You may stay in bed a little longer
Kon ik nog maar even blijven liggen! click to hear 2 3
I wish I could stay in bed just a little longer

Moet kunnen! click to hear 2
['It ought to be possible'] - It should be possible, acceptable, it's not crazy

't Kan me niet schelen click to hear 2
standard expression meaning: I don't care
Het kan me geen zier schelen click to hear 2 3
I don't care at all, I don't care one whit

The perfect tense 'ik heb gekund' is rarely used, but you may find something similar in strings of infinitives with 'kunnen' after the auxiliary verb for the perfect tense 'hebben.'

Ik heb een paar jaar pianoles gehad ... click to hear
I've had piano lessons for a few years ...
... maar ik had beter gitaar kunnen leren spelen click to hear
... but it would have been better to have learned to play the guitar

'Kunst' (art) and 'kunde' (skill/knowledge) are probably related to 'kunnen.' ('Kunde' is mostly found in compound words.)
(de) kunst click to hear art
(het) kunstwerk click to hear 2 work of art, piece of art
kunstenaar click to hear 2 3
artiest click to hear 2
artist
schilder click to hear 2 painter (house and art)
kunstschilder click to hear painter (artist)
De Schilderkunst click to hear 'The Art of Painting' - (Vermeer)
- more arts and artists - 2

(de) deskundige click to hear 2
(de) expert (French) click to hear
expert
Many of the sciences have unusual names in Dutch. The rise of the modern sciences coincided with Dutch independence, and in patriotic enthusiasm people like Simon Stevin click to hear created good Dutch words. ->>
(de) wiskunde click to hear mathematics
(de) natuurkunde click to hear physics
(de) scheikunde click to hear chemistry >>
(de) sterrenkunde click to hear 2 astronomy
(de) plantkunde click to hear botany
(de) aardrijkskunde click to hear geography

(de) wetenschap click to hear science
wetenschapper click to hear 2 scientist
natuurkundige click to hear
fysicus click to hear 2
physicist
chemicus click to hear 2
scheikundige click to hear 2 3
chemist
wiskundige click to hear 2 mathematician

een kunst en een kunde click to hear 2
an art and a learned skill

Compare with: 'mogen' - 'may,' 'be allowed to'

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Gij zult niet stelen click to hear 'Thou shalt not steal'