Expressing permission with "keyi"

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可以 (kěyǐ) is an auxiliary verb primarily used for expressing permission. It's often translated as "can," but in order to not get it confused with other words, it's best to think of it as "may" to emphasize the permission aspect.

Basic Usage

Just put 可以 (kěyǐ) in directly before a verb to create a meaning of "may" (plus the verb). It's the same structure whether it's a statement or a question.


Subj. + 可以 + Verb + Obj.

Use this structure to express permission to do things.


  • 可以 进来 吗?kěyǐ jìnlái ma?May I come in?
  • 二十 一 岁 以后 可以 喝酒。Èrshí-yī suì yǐhòu kěyǐ hējiǔ.After you are 21 years old, you may drink alcohol.
  • 妈妈,我 可以 出去 玩 吗?Māma, wǒ kěyǐ chūqù wán ma?Mom, may I go out and play?
  • 我们 可以 在 办公室 吃饭 吗?Wǒmen kěyǐ zài bàngōngshì chīfàn ma?Can we eat in the office?
  • 可以 在 这里 停车 吗?kěyǐ zài zhèlǐ tíngchē ma?Can I park here?

Negating 可以 (kěyǐ) Sentences

可以 (kěyǐ) sentences are negated with 不 (bù), which is inserted before 可以 (kěyǐ).


Subj. + 不 + 可以 + Verb + Obj.


  • 孩子 不 可以 看 这 个。Háizi bù kěyǐ kàn zhège.Children can't watch this.
  • 你 现在 不 可以 进去。Nǐ xiànzài bù kěyǐ jìnqù.You can't go in right now.
  • 这里 不 可以抽烟。Zhèlǐ bù kěyǐ chōuyān.You can't smoke here.
  • 我们 都 不 可以 去 。Wǒmen dōu bù kěyǐ qù.None of us may go.
  • 不 可以 说 脏话。 bù kěyǐ shuō zānghuà.You can't say swear words.

See also

Sources and further reading