Chinese grammar: Comparison of "huì 会", "néng 能" and "kěyǐ 可以"

Share:
It is important to know when to use the words you learn in the right situation when learning a language.
When translating from a language into Chinese, different word choices will often have more than one meaning.
The word "can" is an example of this. When we use "can" as an auxiliary verb, we should know that this word has many meanings in Mandarin Chinese.
Therefore, it is important to know what context and situation we are going to use the Chinese word.

 

 

The three modal verbs huì 会, néng 能 and kěyǐ 可以

 

The three modal verbs huì 会, néng 能 and kěyǐ 可以 are often translated as "can". Sometimes they are explained as such: huì 会 means "know how to", néng 能 means "to be able to", and kěyǐ 可以 means "to have permission to."
However, the use of these words in Mandarin Chinese overlaps somewhat. We will now explain in more detail how to use them properly.

 

 

Basic meanings

 

The words huì 会, néng 能 and kěyǐ 可以 sometimes overlap in meaning. However, you can divide their use into 3 categories:
1. huì 会 can mean "to know how to", expressing an action you have learned.
2. néng 能 can mean "to be able", which describes having a special ability.
3. kěyǐ 可以 can mean "to be allowed", and expresses having another person's permission.
 
When do these words overlap in the way you use them?
Ability in the sense of "knowing how". Here you can use both huì 会 and néng 能.
Permission. Here you can use néng 能 or kěyǐ 可以.
Note that when permission is not granted, you say bù kěyǐ 不可以.

 

 

Express ability

 

Both huì 会 and néng 能 can express the ability to do something.
Structure:
huì 会 / néng能 + Verb
 
Examples:
Wǒ huì kāi chē.
我会开车.
I can drive.
 

Wǒ huì shuō Zhōngwén.
我会说中文.
I can speak Chinese.

 

 

Express permission

 

Structure:
kěyǐ 可以 / néng 能 + Verb

Examples

A: Jīnglǐ, wǒ kěyǐ wǎn diǎn shàngbān ma?
A: 经理, 我可以晚点上班吗?
A: Manager, can I start working a little later?
B: kěyǐ
B: 可以.
B: That's fine.
 

A: Wǒ néng hē jiǔ ma?
A: 我能喝酒吗?
A: Can I drink alcohol?
B: Bù néng.
B: 不能.
B: (You) can not (do it).

 

Womans hand rejecting more alcohol from wine bottle in bar

 

 

Express opportunity

 

Néng 能 and kěyǐ 可以 can also express possibility.
Structure:
kěyǐ 可以 / néng 能 + Verb
 
Examples

Wǒmen néng bù néng qù lǚyóu?
我们能不能去旅游?
Can we go travelling?

 
Míngtiān wǒmen kě bù kěyǐ zài jiā kàn diànyǐng?
明天我们可不可以在家看电影?
Can we stay home and watch a movie tomorrow?

 

 

Talk about the future

 

Huì 会 can also mean that something is going to happen.
Structure:
huì 会 + Verb / Adj.

Examples

Xià zhōu wǒ huì chūchāi.
下周我会出差.
I'm going on a business trip next week.
 

Wǒ huì qù Hángzhōu lǚyóu.
我会去杭州旅游.
I'm going to travel to Hangzhou.

 

 

Emphasize something

 

By placing hěn 很 in front of huì 会, we emphasize the ability and skill of the action presented. Hěn huì 很 会 means that you are very good at doing something.
Structure:
hěn 很 + huì 会 / néng 能 + Verb
If you say hěn néng shuō 很 能 说 means that someone speaks a lot, while hěn huì shuō 很 会 说 means that someone is good at expressing themselves in spoken language.
Examples:
I'm going to change.
他很会唱歌.
He's really good at singing.
 
Tā hěn néng shuō.
她很能说.
She really talks a lot.

 

 

Do you want to learn more about Mandarin Chinese or know someone who does?

If you want to learn Mandarin Chinese, feel free to REGISTER FOR A FREE TRIAL CLASS HERE or send me an email (Chen Huimin): This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
We offer private lessons and group classes at all levels, HSK 1-6, children, adults, business. All Mandarin Chinese classes are offered in classrooms or online.
Do you know anyone who wants to learn Chinese? We will give you 500 US dollars as a bonus as a part of our program "Refer a friend - get $ 500" if your friend or others you introduce to us start taking Chinese classes at our school. Register here if this is interesting for you!

 

WeChat Image 20210427081950 3

Contact

Lær Kinesisk AS

Phone: +47 90814756
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Teaching address:
Tordenskioldsgate 2
0160 Oslo, Norway

Post address:
Tordenskioldsgate 2
0160 Oslo, Norway

Organization