Difference Between Can And May

Difference Between Can And May

Difference Between Can And May

Difference between can and may

There is often confusion over the words can and may.

Can

The word can is used to denote ability.

    • I can swim.

(I have the ability to swim.)

    • Can he lift 150 kgs?

(Does he have the ability to lift 150 kgs?)

May

The word may is used to denote permission.

      • You may swim in this river.

(You are allowed to swim in this river.)

 

    • May I have a biscuit?

(Am I permitted to have a biscuit?)

 

Use Can for Permission (Informal Setting)

These days, however, the word can is used for both ability and permission, particularly in an informal setting.

      • You can swim in this river.

(You are allowed to swim in this river.)

 

    • Can I have a biscuit?

(Am I permitted to have a biscuit?)

Always Use May for Permission in a Formal Setting

In a formal setting or in polite company, you should use may to denote permission.

    • May I leave the table?

(Am I permitted to leave the table?)

NOTE
AUXILIARY VERBS

Can is an auxiliary verb meaning to be able to. May is an auxiliary verb meaning to be permitted to.
“Can I go outside, grandma?”
“You can, dear. You’re just not allowed.”

 

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