Can and May

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What is the difference between can and may?

Use may for permission. For example: Use can for ability. For example:

Can and May

There is often confusion over the words can and may.

Can

The word can is used to denote ability. For example:

May

The word may is used to denote permission. For example:

Can for Permission (Informal Setting)

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

Use May for Permission in a Formal Setting

If you have a reason to be "uber correct" (e.g., you're hosting royalty or a very pedantic grandparent), you should use may to denote permission. For example:

Can and May Are 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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See Also

may and might shall and will What are auxiliary verbs? What are verbs? List of easily confused words