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Level 1 Lesson 24.1 – Can I Turn on the Computer?

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Ask Can I Do Something in Chinese with Modal Verb 能 | 能 vs. 会 in Chinese

In this video lesson we'll learn how to ask can I do something in Chinese with 能, and also we'll compare 能 vs. 会 in Chinese.

  • Ask Can I Do Something in Chinese with Modal Verb 能
  • Answer 能-question with yes/no: 可以/不行
  • 能 vs. 会 in Chinese
  • 开 vs. 关 in Chinese



Grammar 1: Ask Can I Do Something in Chinese with Modal Verb 能 · HSK 1

The Modal Verb 能 néng can be used to suggest (1) possibility to do something (2) rationality to do something.

Like other Modal Verbs, 能 can be used before a Verb Predicate, following such structure,

Subject +  + Verb Predicate (+Object)

One thing to notice is that 能 is usually used (1) to ask a question or (2) in a negative sentences

For example,

(1) 能 used to ask a question

With Object

  • wǒ néng kāimén ma
    can I open the door
  • wǒ néng guān diànshì ma
    can I turn off the TV

Without Object

  • nǐ jīntiān néng lái ma
    can you come today
  • wǒ xiànzài néng zǒu ma
    can I leave now


(2) 能 used in a negative sentences

With Object

  • wǒ bùnéng guān diànshàn, tàirèle
    I can't turn off the fan, (it is) too hot
  • wǒmen bùnéng kāi diànshì, māma zài zhèlǐ shuìjiào ne
    we cannot turn on the TV; mom is sleeping here

Without Object

  • Zhāng lǎoshī xiàge xīngqī bùnéng qù
    Teacher Zhang cannot go next week
  • wǒ xiànzài bù néng shuō
    I cannot tell (you) now


Grammar 2: Answer 能-Question With Yes/No: 可以/不行 · HSK 1

To answer 能-question with Yes/No, we don't really simply say néng 能 and bùnéng 不能 for yes and no.

More likely, we use kěyǐ 可以 for yes and bùxíng 不行 for no. For example,

Q: nǐ néng gěiwǒ mǎi běn shū ma
     can you buy me a book
Y: kěyǐ
     yes; okay
N: bùxíng 
     no; (it's) not (gonna) work


Q: wǒ néng kāi diànshì ma
     can I turn on the TV
Y: kěyǐ
     yes; okay
N: bùxíng 
     no; (it's) not (gonna) work

However, when the answer is no, answering with only 不行 might sound too blunt or impolite. Adding 对不起 and  a little explanation can help soften the tone.

For example,

Q: nǐ néng kāi diànshì ma
     can you turn on the TV
A: duìbuqǐ, bùxíng, wǒ bù zhīdào kāiguān zài nǎr
     sorry, no, I don't know where the power button is


Q: wǒmen jīntiān wǎnshàng néng chī pīsà ma
     can we eat pizza tonight
A: bùxíng, jīntiān shì wǒ māma de shēngrì, tā xiǎng chī jiǎozi
     no, today is my mon's birthday; she wants to eat dumplings


Grammar 3: 能 vs. 会 in Chinese · HSK 1

We have learned Modal Verb 会 huì before, both 会 and 能 can be translated as "can" or "to be able to" in English. But there are distinct differences between them.

会 suggests one’s ability to do something.

能 suggests (1) the possibility to do something (2) the rationality to do something.

For example,

  • nǐ huì shuō Zhōngwén ma
    can you speak Chinese (as a skill)
  • nǐ néng shuō Zhōngwén ma
    can you speak Chinese (as an inquiry, asking possibility)
  • nǐ huì xiě zhège Hànzì ma
    can you write this Chinese character(because you know how to write it)
  • nǐ néng xiě zhège Hànzì ma
    can you write this Chinese character(because I asked you to write it)


  • tā bú huì Zhōngwén, wǒ bùnéng hé tā shuō Zhōngwén
    he doesn't know Chinese, I can't speak Chinese with him


Grammar 4: 开 vs. 关 in Chinese · HSK 1

In Chinese both kāi 开 and guān 关 have two meanings.

  • kāi 开 to open; to turn on
  • guān 关 to close; to turn off


And when 开 and 关 are put together, they make  a Compound 合成词 Héchéngcí  - 开关.

  • kāiguān 开关 (power) switch; power button
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