Difference 能 可以

Chinese Grammar: The Difference Between 能 (néng) and 可以 (kěyǐ)

In Chinese Grammar by Angel Huang

Both 能 (néng) and 可以 (kěyǐ) are often translated as “can” in English.

But they carry different meanings. 

In this video, we'll break down the differences between the two modal verbs, providing clear examples and practical tips to help you understand when to use each one.

The Key Differences Between 能 (néng) and 可以 (kěyǐ) (A summary  of the video above)

- 能 (néng): This word is used to indicate that someone has the ability to do something or that something is possible

- 可以 (kěyǐ): This word is used to ask for or give permission to do something. It's more about whether it's allowed or acceptable to do something rather than whether it's possible.

So, let's look at some examples to better understand the difference between 能 (néng) and 可以 (kěyǐ).

Example 1:

- 我说中文。(Wǒ néng shuō zhōngwén.) - I can speak Chinese. I am able to speak Chinese.

- 我可以说中文吗?(Wǒ kěyǐ shuō zhōngwén ma?) - Can I speak Chinese? Am I allowed to speak Chinese?

In the first sentence, 能 (néng) is used to express the ability to speak Chinese. In the second sentence, 可以 (kěyǐ) is used to ask for permission to speak Chinese.

Example 2:

- 他吃辣的。(Tā néng chī là de.) - He can eat spicy food. He is able to eat spicy food.

- 他可以吃辣的吗?(Tā kěyǐ chī là de ma?) - Can he eat spicy food? Is he allowed to eat spicy food?

In the first sentence, 能 (néng) indicates that he has the ability to eat spicy food. In the second sentence, 可以 (kěyǐ) is asking if he's allowed or if it's okay for him to eat spicy food.

Key Takeaway: 

能 (néng) is about ability or possibility, while 可以 (kěyǐ) is about permission or acceptability. So keep practicing, and you'll master these modal verbs in no time!