Man kann nicht alles können.

English Translation

You can’t do everything.

Why would it not be tun or machen?

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The “können” here means “be able to”, “be proficient in”, “be skilled”.

So it really means something like “You can’t be skilled in everything”.


Very good question. As so often, it depends on the direction of translation:

pitti42 is right, the German sentence means

“One cannot be proficient in everything” or less literally but somewhat better English
“Nobody is proficient in everything” or even simply “Nobody is perfect”.

The pun here is the play with the double use of “können”, but unfortunately you need two different words in English, so it is lost in translation.

However, if you translate the English sentence to German, the meaning might be quite different:

“Du kannst nicht alles machen” e.g. in the sense “You can’t do everything alone” = “Du kannst nicht alles alleine machen”.

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That makes sense. Thank you.