28 May Having fun with ‘May’
….and with her confusing sidekick, ‘can’. These words have different meanings and usages, altho the distinction has blurred in informal speech. However, in keeping with our mission of shining light on correctness where we can, we offer the rules, which are blessedly easy.
May is used with permission. Can is used with ability.
“May I have a look at your novel? I can read Polish.”
“You may use my cell phone if you can figure out how to turn it on.”
And that’s it! Would that all grammatical glitches were so easily surmounted.
“I can’t carry this piano one more step. May I not sit for a while?” (notice that we don’t have “mayn’t”. Too bad. )
Sometimes May gets herself tangled up with Might. For now let’s agree that if using May makes the meaning confusing, use Might. For example:
“He may not go to Lucvicio’s party.” This could sound like he doesn’t have permission. If that isn’t the case, better to use Might. “He might not go to Ludvicio’s party.”
So, you may follow the rules or not, but isn’t it nice to know that you can!