Singlish is the “official” dialect of Singapore. It is said to be one of the hardest colloquial English to understand and master besides Singaporeans themselves. Just looking at the number of ways the word “can” could be used in different situations and contexts will cause a massive headache to many. So without further ado, can lah we will explain now for you lorh! Can or cannot?
We try to capture the subtle nuances in the different ways Singaporeans use can in their everyday lives. Feel free to email us at [email protected] or leave your comments below if you feel that the explanations require any improvements!
Can lah – reassuring someone that something can be done
John: Hey bro, can you help me with my project?
Max: Aiyo can lah, don’t worry I got your back!
Can horh – asking whether it is okay for the other party, whether he or she is comfortable with something/someone
David: Later I jio Jian Hao also leh, can horh?
Paul: Can lorh…
Can meh – asking whether it can be done, with a slight disbelief
James: Is NTUlearn down?
Peter: Nope I’m able to login ah
James: Can meh? I’ve been trying for an hour sia.
Can mah – similar to can horh but normally used to ask whether someone could help them with a favour
Marcus: I jio Sarah can mah?
Alex: Okay bro.
Marcus: Eh you do the whole of the report for me can mah? My gf birthday today.
Alex: Walao so last minute zzz!
Can or not – whether something can be done. Short for can or cannot
Kenneth: I go buy food first can or not?
Can can – assuring that it can be done and quickly ending the convo
Qian Qian: Can you send me the tutorial answers to my email instead? Idk how to use WhatsApp web.
Hui Hui: Can can!
Example 2 (To lengthen a reply):
Hao Ming: We meet after dinner play ball?
Billy: Ok! Can can!
Can siah/Can sia- previously in disbelief, the person is shock that something has been done/completed/achieved
Sally: Eh quickly go order from the Macdonald’s self order kiosk, now got glitch! Only $1 for Mcspicy meal!
Maggie: Wah really can siah!
Can bo (seldom used) – Can be used similarly to can or not and can meh.
Jenny: Help me order something from Ezbuy now can bo?
Jessica: Nope cannot, I no more prime Liao.
Zack: If you plan properly with your friends for Lazada 9.9, some items can be slashed to zero dollar sia
Dicky: Can bo?
Can kua (seldom used) – Asking a person whether he or she is able to see something.
Alex: Eh what is she writing on the board? Can Kua?
Can Liao – Notifying someone that something previously undoable is now doable.
Gerald: Eh I still cannot login into my NTULearn
Gerald: Oh sorry can liao psps!
Confirm can – Extra assurance that something can be done, no worrying is required
Harry: Can you help me settle this?
Jasmine Lai: Confirm can lah. Don’t worry, I will get the work done ASAP!
Can means can cannot means cannot – normally used to ask the other party to make up his or her mind, not beat around the bush, and answer the freaking question
Pamela: Can this be done?
Foxy: Not say cannot lah, just that…
Pamela: Can means can cannot means cannot! Don’t waste my time!
Can one – see can lah
David: You sure Mabel won’t say no if I jio her to watch movie?
Billy: Yeah can one. Don’t hum ji. Faster ask her now.
Not say cannot – it’s not entirely impossible, it can still be done
Kelvin: Sian, screwed up my midterms for CS1010. No chance to get A liao.
Justin: Not say cannot. Just that you need to score full marks for all the assignments and rekt the bell curve for finals.
If can I do – if it can be done, he or she volunteers to do it
Jamie: Hey can you help me collect my passport for me?
Paul: Are you sure I can help you do that? If can I do.
Can de – see can lah
Atikah: I want to pass my finals!
Vivian: Can de!
Cmi – short for cannot make it. Either use to say that something is impossible or to describe someone’s incapabilities or inferior appearance
Hannah: Do you think I can appeal back to Hall 1?
David: CMI lah, you didn’t contribute back to hall at all for the past 2 years!
Hao Xiang: You think this guy handsome not?
Nicholas: Wah this one cmi lah, so cui (ugly in this context) also ask me!
Can lorh – reluctantly agreeing to a request
Jack: Hey Maurice, could you get that report done in 3 hours time?
Maurice: Can lorh…
Confirm plus chop can – see confirm can
Encik: Sergeant! You sure all your man can fall in at 10 AM? Need time just ask for time extension lah!
Sergeant: Confirm plus chop can! My man are ready encik.
Can leh/Can eh – similar to can sia/can siah, but sometimes used to prove someone wrong
Ayton: Ricky say that the internships application are closed. We can’t apply anymore.
Mickey: Can leh, I literally just applied for it.
Can right? – asking rhetorically that something can be done. Can also be used in the same way as can mah
Natasha: I call my boyfriend come with us later for lunch can right?
Shanaya: Aiya can lah can lah…
Can your lanpa lah – expressing strong contradiction to someone who said can
Natasha: I call my boyfriend come with us for dinner also can?
Shanaya: Can your lanpa lah! Stop being so clingy can?!
But can – saying okay to a request passive aggressively
Madeline: Hey can you send me all your notes for finals? I cmi already!
Bei Qifu: To be honest, I’ve put in so much time and effort to do this and I’m not really comfortable with sharing it with anyone. It’s not fair to me!
Madeline: *no reply*
Bei Qifu: But can, later I send you lorh…
Can ah – Multiple meanings depending on how you pronounce ah:
1. Can ah. – Agreeing to something calmly
Jerome: Tomorrow want to study at CLB after lecture?
Jerry: Can ah.
2. Can ah? – Confirming whether can or not
Sarah: I just choose whatever I want for Mala, can ah?
Sally: Yeah can.
3. Can ah?! – Asking whether can or not, in a state of shock, disbelief or excitement
Wei Ming: Eh later I let you sit beside Fiona, give you chance talk to her.
Hao Wei: Wa, can ah?!
Wei Ming: Yeah bro I steady one.