Chinese Grammar: Lesson: Being able to: learning when to use 会 or 能
There are different ways to express "can" in Chinese, depending on what type of ability you’re talking about. Two verbs, in particular, are used to express "being able" are 会 and 能. Let's see what the difference between 会 and 能 is!
2 key ways to express "can" in Mandarin Chinese
Knowing how to vs. being able to
Expressing learned skills with 会
会 is used to express a skill that has been learned or studied. In this case, it means "to know how to".
Expressing natural ability with 能
能 is used to express natural ability, i.e. when talking about activities that are not consciously learned or studied. It means "being able to".
In addition to being used to express natural ability, 能 is also used to communicate possibility and is often used to ask for permission politely. In its negative form, 不能 means it's not possible (not allowed or not capable of).
会 can also be used to express possibility. 会 is used in cases where the possibility or the likelihood of it happening is higher. That's why we tend to regard 会 as a near future, and much closer in meaning to "be going to"or "will" in English.
These two examples will help you understand the nuance between the two:
Let's look at a few more examples.
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