I understand there is a difference between 可以, 能, and 会 in Mandarin. But is there any difference between 能 and 能够?

Also, is there any case where one word can be used but the other cannot?

At least I just got to know that 能够 cannot take a one-syllable verb (while 能 can). So it is not correct to say 她能够吃, but is there any other difference?

  • users suggest web search:"能"和"能够"的区别? yielding e.g. italki.com/question/176841 意思基本一样,相当于英语的can,法语的pouvoir。 只是我们在一些场景下习惯用某个词。汉语词汇量远远大于其他语言。这种一对多的情况很多。只能让老外自己去体会细微的差异 , difference between 能 and 可以 considered at this site among others before. – user6065 Oct 9 '17 at 12:35
  • re 能够吃,jukuu has at least 10 examples with 能够吃 followed by objects, maybe 能够吃 w/o anything following is not allowed, there is this rule: a disyllabic verb must govern a direct object of at least 2 syllables, cf。 comment #2 of chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/19556/… – user6065 Oct 9 '17 at 13:22

Both 能 and 能够 mean 'can/ able to'

Subtle difference:

  • 能 mostly refer to 有能力 (capable/ able)

  • 够 in 能够 carries the additional meaning of '足夠' (enough to)


"Three inch of water can (is capable of) drown a person" 三英寸的水能淹死一個人

"Three inch of water can (be enough to) drown a person" 三英寸的水能够淹死一個人

"one dollar can (is able to) buy one Doughnut" 一美元能買一個甜甜圈

"one million dollar can (be enough to) buy a persons principle" 一百萬美元能够買一個人的原則

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Both "能" and "能够" means the capability of doing things. I would say there's nearly no difference between "能"&"能够", except under some circumstances.

For example, when one surprisedly said "他(很)能吃啊!", it doesn't mean "he is able to eat", but indicate "he eats a lot!/ have a great appetite".

You need to get the true meaning with the scenario/context.

To @TangHo And for me, there is no difference between "三英寸的水能淹死一個"人 & "三英寸的水能够淹死一個人", "一百萬美元能够買一個人的原則" and "一百萬美元能買一個人的原則". In these cases (be enough to) equals to (is capable of).

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I would say 能, as a single character, carries more meanings than 能够.

  1. 能 could be short for 能够, meaning able to do or achieve something.
  2. 能 could be used as an intensifier and often used with 真,很 and etc. For example, 真能干!
  3. 能 could mean 'could' or 'would', like 会. For example, 他能去哪儿?==他会去哪儿?
  4. 能 could mean 才能. For example, 逞能,各尽其能, etc.
  5. 能 could mean 能量. For example, 电能,光能, etc.

Sometimes, it relies on the context to determine whether the speaker refers to meaning 1 or 2. For example, 他能吃 could mean either 'he could eat it as his food' or 'he could eat a lot of it'. The former is the same as 他能够吃, and the latter is the same as 他真(/很)能吃.

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