Will vs. Can: What's the Difference?
"Will" indicates future intention or prediction, while "can" denotes ability or possibility.
"Will" is primarily used to express a future event or a person's intention. "Can", in contrast, is used to express a person's or thing's ability or capacity.
When someone says they "will" do something, they're highlighting their commitment to an action in the future. On the other hand, saying one "can" do something speaks to their capability, not necessarily their commitment.
"Will" is indicative of one's intent or a future occurrence. It doesn't necessarily mean the action is happening now. Whereas, "can" suggests something is possible now or generally, but it doesn’t convey any commitment to that action.
In questions, "will" often seeks to know future outcomes or decisions, like "Will you come?". "Can", in questions, usually inquires about ability or permission, such as "Can you swim?".
It's crucial to recognize the difference between expressing ability or possibility ("can") and signaling intention or prediction ("will") to ensure effective communication.
Expresses future action or intention.
Indicates ability or possibility.
Related to future events.
Denotes present ability or general capacity.
Intention or prediction.
Ability or permission.
Seeking future outcomes or decisions.
Inquiring about capability or permission.
Commitment vs. Capability
Shows commitment to an action in the future.
Shows one's capability, not commitment.
Will and Can Definitions
A modal verb indicating future action.
She will travel to Europe next month.
A cylindrical container used for preserving and storing food.
Open a can of beans for dinner.
An expression of determination or desire.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
To preserve food in a sealed container.
They can tomatoes every summer.
The faculty of conscious and deliberate choice.
She acted against her will.
An informal term for restroom or toilet.
Where's the nearest can?
The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action
Championed freedom of will against a doctrine of predetermination.
To dismiss or reject someone.
He got canned from his job.
Diligent purposefulness; determination
An athlete with the will to win.
A usually cylindrical metal container.
Lacked the will to overcome the addiction.
An airtight container, usually made of tin-coated iron, in which foods or beverages are preserved.
A desire, purpose, or determination, especially of one in authority
It is the sovereign's will that the prisoner be spared.
The contents of such a container
Ate a can of beans.
Deliberate intention or wish
Let it be known that I took this course of action against my will.
(Slang) A jail or prison.
Free discretion; inclination or pleasure
Wandered about, guided only by will.
(Slang) A toilet or restroom.
Bearing or attitude toward others; disposition
Full of good will.
(Slang) The buttocks.
A legal declaration of how a person wishes their personal possessions to be disposed of after death.
(Slang) A naval destroyer.
A legally executed document containing this declaration.
To seal in an airtight container for future use; preserve
To decide on or intend
He can finish the race if he wills it.
(Slang) To make a recording of
Can the audience's applause for a TV comedy show.
To yearn for; desire
“She makes you will your own destruction” (George Bernard Shaw).
To end the employment of; fire.
To decree, dictate, or order
Believed that the outcome was willed by the gods.
To put an end or stop to
Canned the TV show after one season.
Told the students to can the chatter.
To induce or try to induce by sheer force of will
We willed the sun to come out.
To solicit cash donations for a charity or other organization such as a club or amateur sports team by holding out a can or other container in a public place.
To grant in a legal will; bequeath
Willed his fortune to charity.
To know how to; to be able to.
She can speak English, French, and German.
I can play football.
Can you remember your fifth birthday?
To order to direct in a legal will
She willed that her money be given to charity.
May; to be permitted or enabled to.
You can go outside and play when you're finished with your homework.
Can I use your pen?
To exercise the will.
(modal auxiliary verb, defective) To have the potential to; be possible.
Can it be Friday already?
Teenagers can really try their parents' patience.
Animals can experience emotions.
To make a choice; choose
Do as you will.
Used with verbs of perception.
Can you hear that?.
I can feel the baby moving inside me.
To wish; desire
Do what you will. Sit here if you will. See Usage Note at shall.
(auxiliary) Used to express the future tense, sometimes with some implication of volition when used in the first person. Compare shall.
One of our salesmen will visit you tomorrow.
I will pass this exam.
To seal in a can.
They canned air to sell as a novelty to tourists.
(auxiliary) To be able to, to have the capacity to.
Unfortunately, only one of these gloves will actually fit over my hand.
To preserve by heating and sealing in a jar or can.
They spent August canning fruit and vegetables.
(auxiliary) Expressing a present tense with some conditional or subjective weakening: "will turn out to", "must by inference".
He will be home by now. He always gets home before 6 o'clock.
I can't find my umbrella. I will have forgotten it home this morning.
To discard, scrap or terminate (an idea, project, etc.).
He canned the whole project because he thought it would fail.
(auxiliary) To habitually do (a given action).
Boys will be boys.
To shut up.
Can your gob.
(auxiliary) To choose or agree to (do something); used to express intention but without any temporal connotations (+ bare infinitive), often in questions and negation.
Will you marry me?
I’ve told him three times, but he won’t take his medicine.
To fire or dismiss an employee.
The boss canned him for speaking out.
To wish, desire (something).
Do what you will.
To hole the ball.
To wish or desire (that something happen); to intend (that).
(transitive) To cover (the fuel element in a nuclear reactor) with a protective cover.
(archaic) Implying will go.
A more or less cylindrical vessel for liquids, usually of steel or aluminium, but sometimes of plastic, and with a carrying handle over the top.
To instruct (that something be done) in one's will.
A container used to carry and dispense water for plants (a watering can).
(transitive) To bequeath (something) to someone in one's will (legal document).
He willed his stamp collection to the local museum.
A tin-plate canister, often cylindrical, for preserved foods such as fruit, meat, or fish.
(transitive) To exert one's force of will (intention) in order to compel, or attempt to compel, something to happen or someone to do something.
All the fans were willing their team to win the game.
A chamber pot, now a toilet or lavatory.
Shit or get off the can.
Bob's in the can. You can wait a few minutes or just leave it with me.
One's independent faculty of choice; the ability to be able to exercise one's choice or intention.
Of course, man's will is often regulated by his reason.
The act of choosing to do something; a person’s conscious intent or volition.
Most creatures have a will to live.
(slang) Jail or prison.
Bob's in the can. He won't be back for a few years.
One's intention or decision; someone's orders or commands.
Eventually I submitted to my parents' will.
Firmity of purpose, fixity of intent
(archaic) A drinking cup.
(law) A formal declaration of one's intent concerning the disposal of one's property and holdings after death; the legal document stating such wishes.
(nautical) A cube-shaped buoy or marker used to denote a port-side lateral mark
(archaic) That which is desired; one's wish.
A chimney pot.
(archaic) Desire, longing. (Now generally merged with later senses.)
He felt a great will to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
An E-meter used in Scientology auditing.
The power of choosing; the faculty or endowment of the soul by which it is capable of choosing; the faculty or power of the mind by which we decide to do or not to do; the power or faculty of preferring or selecting one of two or more objects.
It is necessary to form a distinct notion of what is meant by the word "volition" in order to understand the import of the word will, for this last word expresses the power of mind of which "volition" is the act.
Will is an ambiguous word, being sometimes put for the faculty of willing; sometimes for the act of that faculty, besides [having] other meanings. But "volition" always signifies the act of willing, and nothing else.
Appetite is the will's solicitor, and the will is appetite's controller; what we covet according to the one, by the other we often reject.
The will is plainly that by which the mind chooses anything.
An ounce (or sometimes, two ounces) of marijuana.
The choice which is made; a determination or preference which results from the act or exercise of the power of choice; a volition.
The word "will," however, is not always used in this its proper acceptation, but is frequently substituted for "volition", as when I say that my hand mover in obedience to my will.
A protective cover for the fuel element in a nuclear reactor.
The choice or determination of one who has authority; a decree; a command; discretionary pleasure.
Thy will be done.
Our prayers should be according to the will of God.
An obs. form of began, imp. & p. p. of Begin, sometimes used in old poetry. [See Gan.]
With gentle words he can faile gree.
Strong wish or inclination; desire; purpose.
My poverty, but not my will, consents; . . . Put this in any liquid thing you will,And drink it off.
A drinking cup; a vessel for holding liquids.
Fill the cup and fill can,Have a rouse before the morn.
That which is strongly wished or desired.
What's your will, good friar?
The mariner hath his will.
A vessel or case of tinned iron or of sheet metal, of various forms, but usually cylindrical; as, a can of tomatoes; an oil can; a milk can.
Arbitrary disposal; power to control, dispose, or determine.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies.
To preserve by putting in sealed cans
The legal declaration of a person's mind as to the manner in which he would have his property or estate disposed of after his death; the written instrument, legally executed, by which a man makes disposition of his estate, to take effect after his death; testament; devise. See the Note under Testament, 1.
To know; to understand.
I can rimes of Rodin Hood.
I can no Latin, quod she.
Let the priest in surplice white,That defunctive music can.
To wish; to desire; to incline to have.
A wife as of herself no thing ne sholde [should]Wille in effect, but as her husband wolde [would].
Caleb said unto her, What will thou ?
They would none of my counsel.
To be able to do; to have power or influence.
The will of Him who all things can.
For what, alas, can these my single arms?
Mæcænas and Agrippa, who can most with Cæsar.
As an auxiliary, will is used to denote futurity dependent on the verb. Thus, in first person, "I will" denotes willingness, consent, promise; and when "will" is emphasized, it denotes determination or fixed purpose; as, I will go if you wish; I will go at all hazards. In the second and third persons, the idea of distinct volition, wish, or purpose is evanescent, and simple certainty is appropriately expressed; as, "You will go," or "He will go," describes a future event as a fact only. To emphasize will denotes (according to the tone or context) certain futurity or fixed determination.
I am able to devote as much time and attention to other subjects as I will [shall] be under the necessity of doing next winter.
A countryman, telling us what he had seen, remarked that if the conflagration went on, as it was doing, we would [should] have, as our next season's employment, the Old Town of Edinburgh to rebuild.
I feel assured that I will [shall] not have the misfortune to find conflicting views held by one so enlightened as your excellency.
To be able; - followed by an infinitive without to; as, I can go, but do not wish to.
Yet he could not but acknowledge to himself that there was something calculated to impress awe, . . . in the sudden appearances and vanishings . . . of the masque
Tom felt that this was a rebuff for him, and could not but understand it as a left-handed hit at his employer.
To be willing; to be inclined or disposed; to be pleased; to wish; to desire.
And behold, there came a leper and worshiped him, saying, Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus . . . touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean.
Airtight sealed metal container for food or drink or paint etc.
To form a distinct volition of; to determine by an act of choice; to ordain; to decree.
By all law and reason, that which the Parliament will not, is no more established in this kingdom.
Two things he [God] willeth, that we should be good, and that we should be happy.
The quantity contained in a can
To enjoin or command, as that which is determined by an act of volition; to direct; to order.
They willed me say so, madam.
Send for music,And will the cooks to use their best of cunningTo please the palate.
As you go, will the lord mayor . . . To attend our further pleasure presently.
A buoy with a round bottom and conical top
To give or direct the disposal of by testament; to bequeath; to devise; as, to will one's estate to a child; also, to order or direct by testament; as, he willed that his nephew should have his watch.
The fleshy part of the human body that you sit on;
He deserves a good kick in the butt
Are you going to sit on your fanny and do nothing?
To exercise an act of volition; to choose; to decide; to determine; to decree.
At Winchester he lies, so himself willed.
He that shall turn his thoughts inward upon what passes in his own mind when he wills.
I contend for liberty as it signifies a power in man to do as he wills or pleases.
A plumbing fixture for defecation and urination
The capability of conscious choice and decision and intention;
The exercise of their volition we construe as revolt
A room equipped with toilet facilities
A fixed and persistent intent or purpose;
Where there's a will there's a way
Preserve in a can or tin;
Tinned foods are not very tasty
A legal document declaring a person's wishes regarding the disposal of their property when they die
Terminate the employment of;
The boss fired his secretary today
The company terminated 25% of its workers
Decree or ordain;
God wills our existence
A modal verb expressing ability, possibility, or permission.
She can play the piano.
Have in mind;
I will take the exam tomorrow
Determine by choice;
This action was willed and intended
Leave or give by will after one's death;
My aunt bequeathed me all her jewelry
My grandfather left me his entire estate
A document detailing one's wishes after death.
He left his possessions in his will.
An intention or decision.
It's my will to help others.
Does "will" guarantee an action?
"Will" shows a person's intent or prediction, but it doesn't guarantee the action will occur.
What does "will" mainly express?
"Will" primarily denotes future intention or action.
Can "will" express desire?
Yes, "will" can express strong determination or desire.
Is "will" always related to the future?
Mostly, but "will" can also express determination or desire in the present.
Can "can" denote both ability and permission?
Yes, "can" can mean either ability ("I can swim") or permission ("Can I leave?").
Does "can" always imply the action will occur?
No, "can" shows capability or permission, not the certainty of the action.
Can "can" refer to objects?
Yes, "can" can mean a container, especially for food.
How is "can" typically used?
"Can" is used to indicate ability, possibility, or permission.
How do "will" and "would" differ?
"Will" is more definite for future actions, while "would" is conditional or less certain.
Is "can" related to time?
Generally, "can" indicates present ability or general capacity but doesn't focus on timing.
Written bySawaira Riaz
Sawaira is a dedicated content editor at difference.wiki, where she meticulously refines articles to ensure clarity and accuracy. With a keen eye for detail, she upholds the site's commitment to delivering insightful and precise content.
Edited bySumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.