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American Sign Language: "can"

If you mean "can" as in a container of food, see: CUP


The sign for "can" as in "possible" uses "S" hands that move downward about six inches.
Note: If you use a double movement, it changes the meaning more toward being "possible."

CAN / possible

You can use a stronger movement to indicate more "assurance."


Note: If you mean "can" as in a container of food, use the sign: CUP

The sign "CAN" is the basis for the sign "POSSIBLE."

Also see: CAN'T


A student writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,
I have a question regarding the word "can" plus shaking of the head
"no" to say cannot or can't vs. the sign for can't (point finger of
right hand coming down on point finger of other hand). Are both
excepted? Or is one better than the other? Or am I even wrong to think
you can sign the word can't/cannot by signing the sign for "can" and
shaking the head no (left to right)?
- Ram Levinger
To me, signing CAN-(negative-head-shake) feels "very" awkward and at best might be used to mean "not able." Even for "not able" I would tend to use the actual NOT sign prior to signing CAN. Example: "HE/SHE NOT CAN WALK" = "He isn't able to WALK." I wouldn't recommend that though. Instead I'd just suggest signing "HE/SHE CAN'T WALK." Then if the other person said, "HE/SHE LAZY!" at that point I might sign, "NO! HE/SHE NOT CAN WALK! HIS/HER LEG BROKE!"
However the generally accepted sign for "can not" or "can't" is the CAN'T sign (dominant hand index finger striking the tip of the non-dominant hand index finger). The generally accepted sign for "not-possible" is the IMPOSSIBLE sign (dominant "Y"-hand striking the non-dominant hand palm twice).
- Dr. Bill

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