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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 1976 and 2005 supplements.
This entry has not been updated but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CAN, v.1 Also kin, cin. Meanings as in St.Eng., but in most Sc. dialects the word has a much fuller system of inflections. Can may be used as an inf., pr.p. (cannan'), and gerundive (cannin'); cood, cuid, etc., may be used both as pa.t. and pa.p. and as an inf. after certin auxiliaries in past tense. Only the grammatical uses not known in St.Eng. are illustrated here, along with the variant forms for the past tense.

Sc. forms of Eng. can.wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 17:
Mibbe Ah cin restore his fortunes and fill his pantry -
Back whaur he comes fae, ken, he's yin o' the gentry!

Sc. usages:

I. Pres. indic. Negative, canna, cannae, cannie, canny, cannin (interrog.) = Eng. cannot. [′kɑnə, ′kɑnĕ, ′kɑnɪ(n)]Abd. 1936 D. Bruce Cried on Sunday 13:
Cannin ye be sairious?
Per. c.1800 Lady Nairne Songs (ed. Rogers 1905) 210:
Better lo'ed ye canna be, Will ye no come back again?
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 19:
'You cannae help me noo Mary, but keep you safe my papers.'
wm.Sc. 1991 Liz Lochhead Bagpipe Muzak 18:
'Is the site of Glasgow Garden Festival Eighty-Eight.
It's fun for all the family' - (I canny wait!)
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 49:
Fionnula (the cooler) asked, Why don't you come along with us the night to the Mantrap? Ah, cannie Fionnula. Uhm totally skint.
Gsw. 1985 Michael Elder Stookie 11:
"I canny see a thing," he said.
"Clean your own glasses first, ye grotty little beast, ye, and dinny mess up my good telescope holdin' it to they filthy things o' yours," ...
Gsw. 1985 Michael Munro The Patter 15:
canny A local version of can't "Ah canny take it!"
Gsw. 1990 Moira Burgess in Hamish Whyte and Janice Galloway New Writing Scotland 8: The Day I Met the Queen Mother 1:
'Better eat,' he said. 'Canny dae 'thoot food. ...'

II. Past indic. and subj. and conditional tenses, cud, cuid, cwid, cou'd, cood, caud. The Sc. form without l is etymologically more correct than Eng. could (O.E. cūðe), where l was inserted in imitation of should and would, which had it in the stem. The negative is formed with the enclitic na as in canna above, or with -nin, -en (Abd.). Also couldnae, couldny, couldnie, cudnae[kud, kʌd Sc. + kwɪd ne.Sc.]Sc. 1912 A.O.W.B. Fables frae the French 13:
The vivers were gran', but juis't dish't for a beak, An sae Faither Tod cudna sup, lick, or speak.
Mry.(D) 1927 E. B. Levack Stories Old Lossiemouth 23:
An' in maitters o' releegion we should a' be o' a'e min' (an' in ither things tee if we cuid).
Bnff. 1923 W.C. in Bnffsh. Jnl. (24 July) 2:
An' mak' the grun' we jeest cwidna.
ne.Sc. 1993 Ronald W. McDonald in A. L. Kennedy and Hamish Whyte New Writing Scotland 11: The Ghost of Liberace 69:
Thir een wis teetin at ye fae ivry neuk an ye caud spy'm nippin ower the cupples o the stable.
ne.Sc. 1996 Lindsay Paterson in Sandy Stronach New Wirds: An Anthology of Winning Poems and Stories from the Doric Writing Competitions of 1994 and 1995 15:
The first place she saw wis an Art Gallery. She wisna intae art bit she cwid get oot o the rain.
Abd.(D) 1871 W. Alexander Johnny Gibb xvii.:
Cudnin we get Sandy an' the souter in aboot, an' try an' sattle upo' something, as lang's we're thegither?
Abd. 1924 J. C. Mathieson in Swatches o' Hamespun 60:
Weel, Mary, cudeny'a telt me that Yon meenlicht nicht amo' the stooks?
Ags. 1988 Raymond Vettese The Richt Noise 49:
My faither's wearied, a window life
scunners him wha cuid never thole
hauf-deid fowk wi kirkyaird sowls.
Dundee 2000 Ellie McDonald Pathfinder 8:
Ye cudnae tell hou auld the Mini wis,
its burnt out shell abandoned at the cribbie.
A Dundee double whammy:
Setterday nicht joyride an boney.
m.Sc. 1994 J. E. MacInnes in James Robertson A Tongue in Yer Heid 13:
There werny minny summers that I can mind as a wean that were hot throughout, thon sweatin hot that ye couldny dae onything, but this wan wis.
m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 8:
You didnae mairry me fur anythin else, either! Ah couldnae pit it clearer! End of story!
wm.Sc. 1985 Liz Lochhead Tartuffe 40:
Let me leave here on the double,
Sharpish - afore they cause me further trouble ...
By God ye'll stey, Ah couldny live wi' sic a loss ...
wm.Sc. 1987 Anna Blair Scottish Tales (1990) 36:
' ... The organ isn't seen from the Chapel. ... and you can play the service.'
Cockpen shook his head but without smeddum to his protest.
'Och I couldnae ... but mind it would be the great thing for me, that.'
wm.Sc. 1998 Alan Warner The Sopranos (1999) 118:
She couldnie stand up.
Gsw. 1877 A. G. Murdoch Laird's Lykewake, etc. 70:
Sic pooin' doon, an' dingin' owre! ma wordie, wha cood haud Their temper seein' siccan waste?
Gsw. 1990 Moira Burgess in Hamish Whyte and Janice Galloway New Writing Scotland 8: The Day I Met the Queen Mother 2:
'Canny even treat you right,' he wept. 'Canny keep you. Couldny keep them. My ain fuckin fault.'
Dmf. [1777] J. Mayne Siller Gun (1836) 16:
Nae ee cou'd look without regard On Robin Tamson.
Tyr. 1929 “Mat Mulcaghey” Rhymes of a Besom Man 107:
Alas! we cuddent keep them, An' wan by wan they went.
Neg. followed by pa.p. of principal verb = could not have —. The auxiliary “a” = have has been assimilated to the final a of couldna, etc. Known to Bnff.2, Abd.19, Ags.1, Fif.10 1938.Abd.(D) 1875 W. Alexander Life among my ain Folk (1882) iii.:
He cudna expeckit better guideship though he hed been ane o' oor nain faimily.
Per. c.1800 Lady Nairne Songs (ed. Rogers 1905) 219:
Without tie or fetter, it cou'dna been better, But it wad gae witless the warld to see.

III. Infinitive. The forms can and could are used indiscriminately with most auxiliary verbs, although the future tense almost invariably takes can. In early Eng. this construction is fairly general (Chaucer has it in Troylus v. 1404) and it is still used in the n.Eng. dials. In Shetland the construction seems to have been confused with that required with to be able, giving the phenomenon can to —.

1. With will, future tense. Often used thus to express doubt or possibility. Known to Ags.17, Slg.3, Fif.1, Lnl.1, Gsw.2, Lnk.3, Kcb.1 1938.Sc. 1756 M. Calderwood Journey (1884) 215, 218:
If we get a German doctor, not one of us will can speak to him. . . . Bruxells will be so troubled with vermine that you will not can live in it.
Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary xxvi.:
He'll no can haud down his head to sneeze, for fear o' seeing his shoon.
Sc. 1819 Carlyle Early Letters (Norton) I. 216, 232:
I think we will can pay the Rent this year at any time we think proper. . . . I daresay you will not can read this scrawl.
Sc. 1886 R. L. Stevenson Kidnapped xxix.:
We'll can agree fine.
m.Sc. 1939 James Barke The Land of the Leal (1987) 430:
' ... and no' be working yoursel' into a state so that you'll no' can sleep. ... '
Fif. 1929 A. Taylor Bitter Bread 60:
I looked for your brither before this, but nae doot ye'll can tak' a message tae him.
Edb. 1893 Robert Louis Stevenson Catriona (1924) 10:
"Will I can trust you for that?" she asked.
Edb. 1938 (per Abd.9):
Will ye no can do't?
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 16:
"Weel then, that's it. You Bryce, you'll dae the grindin' and keep in wi' the laird. You'll maybe can follow Faither as the real miller by and by,"
wm.Sc. 1980 Anna Blair The Rowan on the Ridge 34:
"If she still has a notion of you, and if you've a cot bigged by Martinmas, you'll can marry her wi' my mither's blessin' ..."
Arg. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days xxix.:
What I want to ken is, if I winna could hinder him that's my fiancé frae dicin' or drinkin' 't awa' ance he got me mairried to him?
Gsw. 1980 Alex Hamilton in Moira Burgess and Hamish Whyte Streets of Stone (1985) 44:
'... Moan orr tae thi hoose n wull get thi fuzz oot. Mibbe thill kin get fingir print sur sumhin thit'll gie thim a clue.
Ayr. 1826 Galt Last of the Lairds 86:
But I doubt, Miss Girzie, ye'll no can expec her to domicile with the like of you.

2. With may, might. Known to Ags.7, Slg.3, Fif.10, Lnl.1, Arg.1, Lnk.3, Kcb.9 1938.Abd. p.1768 A. Ross Works (S.T.S.) 178:
Ablins when auld Dick gees o'er the post The youth himsell may can to rule the rost.
Rxb.(D) 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes an Knowes 13:
Yince an A'd wun there, A thocht, A micht mebbies cood geet a hurl the lenth o Hawick.

3. With would = conditional tense. Known to Slg.3, Fif.10, Lnl.1, Gsw.2, Lnk.3, Kcb.1 1938.Arg.1 1929:
“He wouldna could dae't,” he would not be able to do it. A very common idiom, often used by quite well-educated people.

4. With could.Sh.(D) 1891 J. J. H. Burgess Rasmie's Büddie 21:
An dan, wi baid een staandin wide, Sae noucht could can ta pass me.

5. With use to. Known to Lnl.1, Kcb.9 1938.Arg.1 1931:
I didn't use tae could tak them at aa.

IV. Gerund, cannin', being able to. Known to Slg.3 1938.Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B.:
“Wi' him no cannin' wun hyim wi' the railway strike” (= Through his not being able to get home, etc.).

V. Pa.p. cood, cuid (obsol. (Watson)), been able to.Sc. 1888 N.E.D. s.v. Can, v.1:
He has not could come. If I had could find it.
s.Sc. 1873 J. A. H. Murray D.S.C.S. 216:
“Thay haena cuid geate eane,” they have not been able to get one.
Rxb.(D) 1925 E. C. Smith Mang Howes an Knowes 12:
“Aha!”, think A, “it'll no hev cood gar ends meet this bittie back, nih, A'se warran!”

[O.Sc. can, pa.t. cuth, couth, cwde, cuid, cud, coud, etc., earliest quot. 1375 (D.O.S.T). The usages exemplified in III.–V. are rare or unknown in ne.Sc.]

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"Can v.1". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 30 Mar 2023 <>



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