29. Can

In this lesson, you will learn conjugations to say ‘can’ and show possibilities.

Korean Modal Verb Can img

할 수 있다 : Can do

할 수 있다 is a Korean conjugation which describes the possibility or the future possibility. This conjugation really shows well how Korean grammar works. ‘할 수 있다’ is ‘can do’ in English.


Basic Form (하다 style) 해요 colloquial style
하다 + + 있다
Verb + Future + Possibility + There is
Be + Adjective
= ㄹ 수 있다
= Can


할 수 있다 literally means ‘there is a possibility (or a way) to do something in the future’ and each word in this phrase works as a conjugation. How beautiful is it? You can see why it has the word ‘there is’ in it right?


이거 다 먹 수 있어요?
Can (you) eat this all?


여기서 술 마 수 있어요
(We) can drink some alcohol here


성공 수 있어요
You can success it


This unique way which Korean grammar has makes few things possible that English grammar can’t do.
할 수 있을거예요
= Will + Can
= Will be able to

일 수 있다 : May be

Unlike ‘할 수 있다’. ‘일 수 있다’ only shows the possibilities and it sounds more like guessing or assumption. So, 일 수 있다 is more natural when it’s translated as ‘may be’.


This way is not commonly used. Koreans also use ‘maybe’ too. They use this conjugation when they really aren’t sure.


Basic Form (하다 style) 해요 colloquial style
이다 다 + + + 있다
Verb + Future + Possibility + There is
Be + Noun = 일 수 있다
= Can be + noun


사람 수 있어요
It might be a person


끔찍한 무기 수 있어요
It may be a horrible weapon


Then, How do you say ‘can be something in the future’, not guessing?

Using 되다

In Korean future tense lesson, you’ve learn ‘이다’ with the future tense sounds more like assumption, not describing a future state. It’s also same to 이다 with ‘can’. So you should use other verbs. In Korean future tense lesson, you learned 되다 (become). And we will use it again in this lesson also.


This way is not commonly used. Koreans also use ‘maybe’ too. They use this conjugation when they really aren’t sure.


Basic Form (하다 style) 해요 colloquial style
되다 다 + + + 있다
Verb + Future + Possibility + There is
Become = 될 수 있다
= Can be + noun


더 좋은 사람이 수 있어요
(I) can be a better man


저도 부자가 수 있어요
I can be rich too

있을 수 있다 : May be

Conjugation 있을 수 있다 is very similar to conjugation 일 수 있다. It shows only the possibility. It’s similar to ‘may be + location’. When 있다 verb is conjugated with ‘ㄹ 수 있다’. It loses the nuance of possession a lot.


Basic Form (하다 style) 해요 colloquial style
있다 다 + + + 있다
Verb + Future + Possibility + There is
Be (location)
Have (possession)
= 있을 수 있다
= Can be / May be (location)
= Can have (possession)


서랍에 있 수 있어요
(It) might be in a drawer


차 있 수 있어요
(He / She) may has a car
There is a bus/train (to go destination)
The car may be available

But You Can’t Use It Like This

In English, ‘can’ can be used to ask a permission. But in Korean, can can’t (lol can can, can can’t. yeah this is fun for me)


Can I open the window?
저는 창문을 열 수 있어요? (Wrong)


But using ㄹ 수 있다 as an asking with 합니다 is not much weird.
제가 창문 좀 열 수 있을까요?
= It’s actually same to ‘May I open the window?’


But it sounds very very formal so Koreans just don’t say it much even at a place you have to be formal. Oh and, 좀 is important. 좀 means ‘a little bit’ But Koreans often use it when they ask something.

Asking Permission

When you want to ask a permission to do something. You must use another conjugation and verb. You will learn this very soon.



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