May - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionaries Online
Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English

May: forms

Affirmative (+) form

May comes first in the verb phrase (after the subject and before another verb):

It may be possible for him to get home tonight.

May can’t be used with another modal verb:

This may hurt you.

Not: This may could hurt you. or This could may hurt you.

Negative (−) form

The negative form of may is may not. We don’t use don’t/doesn’t/didn’t with may:

We may not have enough information at the moment.

Not: We don’t may have enough information at the moment.

Warning:

We don’t use mayn’t as the contracted form of may not:

We may not yet know what is safe to eat.

Not: We mayn’t yet know what is safe to eat.

Question (?) form

Warning:

The subject and may change position to form questions. We don’t use do/does/did:

May we drop you at your hotel?

Not: Do we may drop you at your hotel?

May I leave the room, please?

Not: Do I may leave the room please?

May: uses

Permission

We use may to ask for, give and refuse permission. It is quite formal.

asking for permission

giving permission

refusing permission

May I leave the room?

Yes, you may.

No, you may not.

May we use your phone?

Yes, you may.

No, you may not.

Can, could and may are all used to ask for permission. May is the most formal/polite and could is more formal and polite than can.

Possibility

We use may to refer to weak possibility in the present and future:

The economy may go up or down in the next year. (I think both are possible, the economy going up or the economy going down. I am not making either one a strong possibility.)

I think I may go to the doctor today and try to get some antibiotics. (I am not very sure yet if I will go to the doctor.)

General truths

We use may in formal writing, especially academic English, to describe things which the speaker thinks are generally true or possible. In this case, it is a more formal equivalent of can.

Compare

A typical farmer’s cottage can be seen in the Ulster Folk Museum.

Both sentences express what the speaker believes to be a general truth about where the cottage is located. The speaker knows that there is a cottage in the museum and a visitor is able to see them there if they want to. May is more formal.

A typical farmer’s cottage may be seen in the Ulster Folk Museum.

Accepting a different view or opinion

We often use may to accept a different view or opinion, especially with well, and/or followed by but:

One month may well be too long to go away on holiday.

I may be wrong but I am going to tell the police about it.

The couch may well cost more but it’s going to be different.

(“May” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)
Add Cambridge dictionaries to your browser to your website
Word of the Day
straight

the straight part of a racetrack (= the track on which competitors race)

Word of the Day

Are you a glass-half-full person? (Everyday Idioms)
Are you a glass-half-full person? (Everyday Idioms)
by Kate Woodford,
July 29, 2015
A reader of this blog recently asked for a post on idioms that are used in everyday English. This seemed like a reasonable request. After all, if you are going to make the effort to learn a set of English idioms, you want those idioms to be useful. The question, then, was

Read More 

exoskeleton noun
exoskeleton noun
July 27, 2015
a robotic device which goes around the legs and part of the body of a person who cannot walk and allows them to move independently and in an upright position The device, known as an exoskeleton, is strapped to the outside of a person’s limbs and can then be controlled by them.

Read More