Grammar

Difference Between Can and May

Main difference

The main difference between Can and May is that Can is an auxiliary verb in the English language that is used to express ability and ask for permission, while May is also an auxiliary verb in English that is used to express possibility or seek permission.

can vs mayonnaise

The use of Can is observed in informal conversations. Compared to its counterpart Can, the verb May is used more in formal situations. Can is an auxiliary verb in the English language that is used to express ability and ask for permission. May is also an auxiliary verb in English that is used to express possibility or to ask for permission. In the informal situation, “Can” implies the meaning that a person is capable of performing some task; in informal conversations, it is used to ask permission. It can be used above all formally to take or give permission to do something; in general, it discusses any possibility or events of the future.

It can refer to the possibility or ability to do something, for example, ‘I am confident that I can complete my task today. May denotes seeking permission, e.g. “May I take this book with me?” When permission is requested, Can is used with peers or age peers as it sounds less formal and less polite. It may sound more formal and is used correctly when asking permission from a teacher or a person superior in age or rank.

Can is less polite and is used in the frank and casual situation of asking permission. May is more polite, and is used for polite requests and situations. She can also refer to determining ability, for example, “Can you lift the table by yourself?” It can refer to denotes possibility, for example, he can lift the table by himself.

Comparison chart

can may
An auxiliary verb used to express ability and ask permission. An auxiliary verb in English used to express possibility or ask permission.
Use
Informal Formal
Excuse me
Sometimes Forever
Tone
less educated More cuts

What is Can?

Can is an auxiliary verb used to express a person’s physical or mental ability to do something. p. e.g., “Can you translate this letter into English?” Asking for something is also implied, for example, can you pass the pen to the child sitting next to you? Sometimes it also denotes possibility, for example, it can be okay with prevention and care. Used to offer help or suggestion, for example, Can I solve the puzzle for you?

The word Can is derived from the Old English word cunnan, meaning “power.” It mainly refers to a person‘s ability. In the informal situation, it also asks permission to do something. If a question asks implying ‘Can’, the auxiliary verb can also have ‘Can’ in its answer. For example, can you pass me the remote control? No I can not.

examples

  • Can you make the sauce?
  • Can you play cricket or tennis?
  • You can complete the game level in minutes.
  • You can run a six-minute mile.
  • Can I bring you that book?

What is May?

May is an auxiliary verb used to ask or grant permission. It is used in formal situations. When someone asks for permission by applying my, then the response will also have ‘may’ in the formal situation. For example, if a person says, “Can I come in?” then the other would say, “Yes, you can” or “No, you can’t come in.”

May is used to create more politeness. People prefer to use May in the formal setting, e.g. For example, in a fancy restaurant and ask the waiter: “Can I have more water?” However, the word can does not express an ability. Proper meanings with may are, it is used to represent possibility, for example, he may not like the cake I baked for him. It is used to ask or give permission. Also, May is used to expressing wishes and hopes, for example, “May all your dreams come true.”

examples

  • The candidate can bring standard calculators for the exams.
  • May I come in, ma’am?
  • You can take my book to read.
  • May you achieve new heights of success.
  • Have a happy trip.

Key differences

  1. Can is an auxiliary verb used to express ability and ask for permission. On the contrary, mayo is also an auxiliary verb used to express possibility or search.
  2. The use of Can is observed in informal conversations; on the other hand, May is used more in formal situations.
  3. It can refer to the possibility or ability to do something; on the other hand, May denotes seeking permission.
  4. When permission is requested, Can is used with peers or age peers, as it sounds less formal; on the contrary, it can sound more formal, and is used correctly when asking permission from a teacher or a person superior in age or rank.
  5. Can is less polite, and is used in the frank and casual situation of asking permission, while May is more, and is used in polite requests and situations.
  6. Can is used to express or question someone’s ability to do something; on the contrary, May is used to discussing the possibility or events of the future or asking permission.
  7. You can also refer to determine the capacity; conversely, May refers to denotes possibility.

Final Thought

Can and May are the two different auxiliary verbs. They both have a similar meaning but are different from each other. The difference between them lies in their use and context.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button