Author Topic: When do we use "can" and "may"?  (Read 15428 times)

mylabskie

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When do we use "can" and "may"?
« on: July 25, 2009, 04:29:08 AM »
Hello. Just want to ask when should we use "May" and "Can"?
Can i go out?
May i go out?

thanks.

Joe Carillo

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Re: When do we use "can" and "may"?
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2009, 08:02:04 AM »
Hello. Just want to ask when should we use "May" and "Can"?
Can i go out?
May i go out?

thanks.

We use the auxiliary verbs “may” or “can” to express possibility, to denote the capacity to do something, or to express permission or ask for it. Our choice between them, however, greatly depends on the level of formality of the situation as well as on the social or professional rank or relative seniority between the speaker and the listener. As a general rule, “can” leans towards the informal side of saying things, and “may” to the formal side.

Among friends, for instance, it’s expected and more natural to ask “Can I go out?” than to ask “May I go out?” (To use the latter often draws quizzical looks from the listeners, as if the speaker came from Mars or somewhere else in time.) Conversely, if the speaker is a student addressing a professor in class or someone much more senior in rank or age, it’s considered polite and proper to ask “May I go out?” and rude—even uneducated—to ask “Can I go out?” If you are a lawyer, in fact, a stern judge may even cite you for contempt of court if you asked “Can I see Your Honor in chambers?” instead of “May I see Your Honor in chambers?” This is because in such situations, “can” becomes an improper demand as opposed to “may,” which signifies a plain, humble request.

I must say, though, that this distinction in the usage of “can” and “may” is often not very well appreciated among nonnative speakers of English; it often takes years of social interaction in formal settings or situations for them to understand the difference—and in the interim they are unfairly looked upon as crass or uncouth by socially fastidious people. Thankfully, the acquisition and acclimatization process for the proper usage of “can” and “may” is greatly hastened by reading English-language publications and by exposure to English-language movies and TV shows. In the Philippines, in particular, my feeling is that by the time the typical schooled Filipino turns 10, choosing properly whether to use “may” or “can” has become second nature to him or her. This is something that sets us apart from the people of other countries that don’t have a long English-language heritage like ours.

P.S. If you need to post anything in the Forum, please don't hesitate to open a new subject instead of just adding your post as a thread to an old posting. This way, your question can get my immediate attention. It won't get buried at a level where I may not see it at all--like what almost happened to the question posed here. Thankfully, my webmaster saw it and called my attention to it.

Bunty

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Re: When do we use "can" and "may"?
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2010, 03:48:01 PM »
"Can" and "may" have different meanings. "Can" and "may" both are modal verbs. "Can," as a verb, refers to "ability." (Also "canning," as in "preserving," but that is not relevant here.) "May" has to do with "possibility" and "permission."
For example:
"Can I speak now?" If you want to ask permission to speak, "can" is the wrong word. You probably can speak, if you have not lost your voice, of course. However, if you want to know if it is acceptable to speak at this time, use "may."

"Can I win the 50-yard dash?" That is the correct use of "can." You are asking if you have the ability to do so.

Use "can" in asking permission today, and you won't be wrong. However, look at these examples. If you ask a stranger about the newspaper nearby, you say: "May I look at this newspaper?" On the other hand, if you are speaking to a friend, you say: "Can I borrow your pen?" It is a matter of formality.




Bunty

alicia45

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Re: When do we use "can" and "may"?
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2012, 01:47:32 PM »
Yeah, Both have different meanings... 'May' can be used when surety is necessary for any thing or sentence... 'Can' could be used when surety and sentence sense need this...