Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Can and May

Can vs May

The English words can and may are always confusing. Most of the time people use can for may and vice versa. There are people that make mistakes when using the two words. This is because many of us are unaware of the correct usage of the two words and also unaware of the correct place to use it.

When using can, it denotes possibility or capability. For example, ‘I am not sure if I can lift the table myself.’ In this sentence, can indicates whether the person has the physical capability to do the task.

On the other hand, may indicates permission. For example, ‘May I lift the table?’ Here the person is asking for some permission to lift the table for someone.

Can also determines ability. For example ‘Can you do the work alone?’. In the case of may, it also denotes possibility. The next example clearly defines it. ‘You may stay in my flat next week. I may come late from holidays.’ Here the person is talking of a possibility.

Can is used more in informal talks and may is used more in formal talks. The word can also implies that a person is able to do some task.
When using may, some confusion may arise whether it is a possibility of permission. In this sentence ‘Guests may have validated their tickets’, may is fine if you intend to mean ‘permitted to’ or if you intend ‘will possibly’. But if you want to imply ‘able to’, can is better than may.

Summary

1. People make mistakes when using the two words ‘“ may and can. Many users are unaware of the correct usage of the two words and also unaware of the correct place to use it.
2. Can is used more in informal talks and may is used more in formal talks. The word can also implies that a person is able to do some task.
3. When using can, it denotes possibility or capability. For example, ‘I am not sure if I can lift the table myself.’ In this sentence Can indicates whether the person has the physical capability to do the task.
4. May indicates permission. For example, ‘May I lift the table?’ Here the person is asking for permission to lift the table for someone.


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1 Comment

  1. May or Can.

    Sentence: A provider may not charge a fee.
    A provider can not charge a fee.

    To me the difference is: may not charge gives me the option to charge or not charge, my choice.
    Can not charge tells me straight up that I can’t charge a fee.

    ** Am I wrong or right on this? ** Let me know please

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