What is the difference between Can and May? - ProProfs Discuss
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What is the difference between Can and May?

Asked by R. Barnes, Last updated: Oct 21, 2019

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3 Answers

L. Thornton

Curious about the World

L. ThorntonStudent, MBA, Los Angles
Student, MBA, Los Angles

Answered on Nov 28, 2019

Many of us do not know the difference between can and may. Often times, we use them interchangeably. It is important to note that both words are auxiliary verbs.
The word “can” refers to the ability or capacity to do something. It also refers to being permitted or enabled to do something.

Example: Mary can speak English, Spanish, and German.

You can go to play football when you finish your homework.
The word “may” refers to express the possibility of something or happenings in the future. It can also be used to express a wish. The use of the word “may” is more formal than the use of “can.”

Example: John may be lying. She may not like the shoes we bought. May I go outside?

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P. Halah

P. Halah

Answered on Nov 14, 2019

When using the word can, it insinuates possibility or capability. On the other hand, the word may indicate permission. It can determine ability. The word can is used more during proper talks. The word can also imply that a person can perform a task. When using may, some confusion may arise as to whether it is a possibility or permission. If you are trying to imply able, then can is better than May.

For example, "I am not sure if I can read this writing" indicates whether the person has the physical capability to do something, whereas the sentence, "May I buy you a drink," says the person is asking to buy a drink for someone. Many people are oblivious to the correct usage of these two words.

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D. Loukas

Calculating, Processing, Integrating, Differentiating are what intrigues me the most in a very beautiful way.

D. LoukasMaths Professor, Diploma in Mathematics, Beverly hills, California
Maths Professor, Diploma in Mathematics, Beverly hills, California

Answered on Nov 04, 2019

When using the word can, implies the possibility of capability. For example, "I'm not sure if I can finish my work." In this sentence, the word can indicate whether the person has the physical capability to do the task. On the other hand, it may suggest permission. For example, "May I help you unload the groceries?" Here, the person is requesting permission to help someone with the groceries.

It can also determine the ability. In the case of May, it also signifies a possibility. It can is used more in an informal talk. The word can also imply that a person is able to do some task. When using the word may, some confusion may arise as to whether it is a possibility of permission. May is fine if you plan to mean "permitted to" or if you intend "will possibly." If you want to imply able to, can is better than May.

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