Verbs - Can

Can do [할 수 있다]

In this lesson, we'll learn about how to conjugate verbs to form 'can' and 'cannot'.

Can do
Could do
할 수 있다
할 수 있었다
할 수 있어
할 수 있었어

Can't do
Couldn't do
할 수 없다
못 한다
할 수 없었다
못 했다
할 수 없어
못 해
할 수 없었어
못 했어

Note: 할 수 없다 and 할 수 없었다 is more commnly used than 못 한다 and 못 했다 in written Korean. Similarly, 못 해 and 못 했어 is more commonly used than 할 수 없어 and 할 수 없었어 in spoken Korean. 

Conjugation rules 

<Written Form>

First of all, take 다 off the plain form of verbs. 

1.  For verbs whose last character has no final consonant, attach ㄹ 수 있다 to them, and for verbs whose last character has ㄹ as a final consonant, attach 수 있다 to them.

  • 하다 → 할 수 있다 = can do
  • 가다 → 갈 수 있다 = can go
  • 보다 → 볼 수 있다 = can see
  • 자다 → 잘 수 있다 = can sleep
  • 마시다 → 마실 수 있다 = can drink
  • 달리다 → 달릴 수 있다 = can run
  • 놀다 → 놀 수 있다 = can play
  • 살다 → 살 수 있다 = can live
  • 날다 → 날 수 있다 = can fly

Informal Spoken Form

Repalce 다 with 어.
  • 하다 → 할 수 있어 = can do
  • 가다 → 갈 수 있어 = can go
  • 보다 → 볼 수 있어 = can see
  • 자다 → 잘 수 있어 = can sleep
  • 마시다 → 마실 수 있어 = can drink
  • 달리다 → 달릴 수 있어 = can run
  • 놀다 → 놀 수 있어 = can play
  • 살다 → 살 수 있어 = can live
  • 날다 → 날 수 있어 = can fly

2. For verbs whose last character has a final consonant, attach 을 수 있다 to them. 

  • 먹다 → 먹을 수 있다 = can eat
  • 입다 → 입을 수 있다 = can wear
  • 앉다 → 앉을 수 있다 = can sit
  • 잡다 → 잡을 수 있다 = can catch

Irregular forms
  • 듣다 → 들을 수 있다 (can hear)
  • 걷다 → 걸을 수 있다 (can walk) 

<Spoken Form>

Add 못 in front of the spoken form of positive verbs to express 'can't do' and 'couldn't do.'

  • 해 → 못 해 = can't do
  • 와 → 못 와 = can't come
  • 봐 → 못 봐 = can't see
  • 가 → 못 가 = can't go
  • 들어 → 못 들어 = can't hear
  • 먹어 → 못 먹어 = can't eat
  • 갔어 → 못 갔어 = couldn't go
  • 들었어 → 못 들었어 = couldn't hear
  • 먹었어 → 못 먹었어 = couldn't eat

Example Sentences

  • 치타는 빨리 달릴 수 있다 = A cheetah can run fast.
  • 종달새는 하늘을 날 수 있다 = A lark can fly in the sky.
  • 솔로몬은 어려운 수수께끼를 풀 수 있다 = Solomon can solve a difficult riddle. 
  • 애완동물은 박물관에 들어갈 수 없다. = A pet cannot enter the museum.
  • 기타 칠 수 있어 = I can play the guitar.
  • 존은 해물은 못 먹어 = John can't eat seafood.
  • 사라는 아파서 학교에 못 갔어 = Because Sarah was sick, she couldn't go to school.

치타 = cheetah
빨리 = fast, quickly
종달새 = lark
날다 = fly
솔로몬 = Solomon
어려운 = difficult
수수께끼 = riddle
풀다 = solve
애완동물 = a pet
박물관 = museum
들어가다 = enter
기타 = guitar
치다 = play (the instrument)
존 = John
해물 = seafood
사라 = Sarah
아프다 = sick

Polite Form 

While the informal form in the examples above is used by people who are of the same age and/or close, or when older people are talking to younger people in informal situations, the polite form is commonly used by younger people addressing older people, and in any formal situations.

Can do
Could do
할 수 있습니다
할 수 있었습니다
할 수 있어요
할 수 있었어요

Can't do
Couldn't do
할 수 없습니다
못 합니다
할 수 없었습니다
못 했습니다
할 수 없어요
못 해요
할 수 없었어요
못 했어요

Note: The ones in bold characters are more commonly used alternative of the two in each box.

Conjugation rules 

1. Informal Polite (Written) 

Replace 다 with 습니다.

  • 할 수 있다 → 할 수 있습니다 = can do
  • 갈 수 있다 → 갈 수 있습니다 = can go
  • 말할 수 있다 → 말할 수 있습니다 = can speak
  • 올 수 있었다 → 올 수 있었습니다 = could come
  • 일어설 수 있었다 → 일어설 수 있었습니다 = could stand

2. Informal Polite (Spoken)

Attach 요 at the end of sentences.

  • 할 수 있어 → 할 수 있어요 = can do
  • 갈 수 있어 → 갈 수 있어요 = can go
  • 줄 수 있어 → 줄 수 있어요 = can give
  • 받을 수 있었어 → 받을 수 있었어요 = could receive
  • 올라갈 수 있었어 → 올라갈 수 있었어요 = could go up

Example Sentences
  • 치타는 빨리 달릴 수 있습니다 = A cheetah can run fast.
  • 종달새는 하늘을 날 수 있습니다 = A lark can fly in the sky.
  • 솔로몬은 어려운 수수께끼를 풀 수 있습니다 = Solomon can solve a difficult riddle. 
  • 애완동물은 박물관에 들어갈 수 없습니다. = A pet cannot enter the museum.

  • 기타 칠 수 있어요 = I can play the guitar.
  • 존은 해물은 못 먹어요 = John can't eat seafood.
  • 사라는 아파서 학교에 못 갔어요 = Because Sarah was sick, she couldn't go to school.


      1. hello,thankyou for the wonderful resources!

        I got a question.
        나는 해물은 못 먹어요 = I can't eat seafood.
        Why is 해물 attached to a subject marker and not a object marker, since I is already attached to a subject marker?

      2. thanks for the information!

        may i know how 아파서 is derived from 아프다?

      3. from 아프다, drop ㅡ then left 아ㅍ. since last vowel is ㅏ then u use 아요..conjugation become 아파요...i tink

      4. Hi Anonymous

        Sorry, this has become a very late answer but for the sake of other people who are curious about this, I will answer it here.

        저는 해물을 못 먹어요.
        저는 해물은 못 먹어요.

        = I can't eat seafood.

        Both of them mean 'I can't eat seafood'.

        해물을 못 먹어요 is like a general/normal statement.

        However, 저는 해물은 못 먹어요 has an additional nuance like "(I can eat many things, or probably most things, but) I cannot eat just seafood."

        Here's another example,

        운동 좋아하는데 수영은 못해요 = I like sports but I can't swim.

        (I like sports and I could possibly play most of sports out there, but it's just swimming which I can't do.)

        수영을 못해요 means just 'you can't swim'. It's like a normal/general statement.

        You can, of course, drop 을 to say, 수영 못해요 in spoken Korean but in the case of 은, it must be included in the speech to mean what I described above.

      5. Yes, 아파서 is derived from 아프다.

        The informal spoken form of 아프다 is 아파, and then 서 is attached to it to make "because I was sick".

      6. how come 없어 means "can't" in here while sometimes it means "none" .. can you please tell me how can you tell if its none and its can't..

      7. Hi,

        없어 means "there isn't/aren't" while 수 없어 means "can't."

        For example,

        할 '수 없어' = I can't do
        갈 '수 없어' = I can't go
        먹을 '수 없어' = I can't eat

        If you use just 없어,

        연필이 없어 = There's no pencil.

        아무것도 없어 = There's nothing. (Lit. There is not anything.)

      8. Thank you for such a great site!

        I understand this grammar pattern, but then I found a sentence that used ㄹ 수가 없다 instead of plain
        ㄹ 수 없다. It was also translated as "can't do X." Is adding the 가 a formality or does it make it sound more poetic? I would appreciate any sort of help!

      9. Hi Rachel,

        It seems to me that adding 가 to ㄹ 수 없다, kind of, emphasises the point more.

        For example,

        갈 수 없다 = I can't go
        갈 수가 없다 = I CAN'T go

        If you put 더 이상 in front of it.

        더 이상 갈 수가 없다 = I CAN'T go any more.

      10. I have a question not about this chapter.ㅂ니다 is polite written form right? But I heard it was used in conversation?왜요?


      11. Hi Edmund,

        Here's a bit of explanation:

        The written form is used in literature such as books, newspapers and any form of writing that is not 'conversational.'

        The written form, in essence, is literary, factual and declarative.

        It is rarely used in normal everyday conversations.

        However, the news on TV uses this written form of Korean.

        It is also used in public speeches.

        The reason for that is probably due to the fact that the news and public announcements or speeches are usually all declarative and/or factual.

        Also, just like 고맙습니다 and 감사합니다, we sometimes use ㅂ니다 form.

        ㅂ니다 can still be used in conversations but not too often.

        You may hear it in such instances like someone is announcing something and declaring something.

        Hope it helps with understanding! :)

      12. Hi,

        my question may sound silly, but i'm still curious. is it alright to write 갈 수 있는다 or must it be 갈 수 있다?

        1. It must be 갈 수 있다. :-)

        2. Or it may be 갈 수 있는데 ...... Right?

      13. What is the difference between 해물 and 수산?

      14. Hi Luke,

        Thanks for creating and maintaining this website! This is hands down the most useful resource for learning Korean I have encountered so far.

        One word I have encountered a number of times in the wild is 보이다->보이니, apparently used as a question to the effect of "Can you see?"/"Is it visible?". My Google skills unfortunately seem to be failing me - how would you analyse that construction, and does it generalise to other passive or active verbs?

      15. 저는 못 자여요.is this korean sentence is correct for" i can't sleep"?


      16. How about 살다 = live 하고 사 =buy + ㄹ
        어떻게 해야 돼요?


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