Can vs. May

Main Difference

The main difference between Can and May is that Can is an auxiliary verb in the English language that is used to express ability and to ask permission, whereas May is also an English auxiliary verb that is used to express possibility or to seek permission.

Can vs. May — Is There a Difference?
ADVERTISEMENT

Difference Between Can and May

Can vs. May

Can is an auxiliary verb that is used to express ability and to ask permission. In contrast, May is also an auxiliary verb that is used to express possibility or to seek.

Can vs. May

The use of Can is observed in informal talks; on the other hand, May is used more in formal situations.

Can vs. May

Can refer to the possibility or capability to do something; on the flip side, May denotes the seeking of permission.

Can vs. May

When seeking permission, Can is used with peers or age fellows as it sounds less formal; on the contrary, May sound more formal, and it is correctly used when asking for permission from a teacher or of a person superior in age or rank.

Can vs. May

Can is less polite, and it is used in the frank and casual situation of taking permission, while May is more, and it is used in and making requests and the situations of courtesy.

Can vs. May

Can is used to express or ask someone’s ability to do something; on the converse, May is used to discussing the possibility or happenings of the future or to ask permission.

ADVERTISEMENT

Can vs. May

Can also refer to determine the ability; conversely, May refers to denotes possibility.

Can vs. May

Canverb

To know how to; to be able to.

She can speak English, French, and German.I can play football.Can you remember your fifth birthday?

Mayverb

To be strong; to have power (over).

Canverb

May; to be permitted or enabled to.

You can go outside and play when you're finished with your homework.Can I use your pen?

Mayverb

To be able; can.

ADVERTISEMENT

Canverb

(modal auxiliary verb, defective) To have the potential to; be possible.

Can it be Friday already?Teenagers can really try their parents' patience.Animals can experience emotions.

Mayverb

To be able to go.

Canverb

(auxiliary verb, defective) Used with verbs of perception.

Mayverb

To have permission to, be allowed. Used in granting permission and in questions to make polite requests.

you may smoke outside;may I sit there?

Canverb

To seal in a can.

They canned air to sell as a novelty to tourists.

Mayverb

Expressing a present possibility; possibly.

he may be lying;Schrödinger's cat may or may not be in the box

Canverb

To preserve by heating and sealing in a jar or can.

They spent August canning fruit and vegetables.

Mayverb

Expressing a wish (with present subjunctive effect).

may you win;may the weather be sunny

Canverb

To discard, scrap or terminate (an idea, project, etc.).

He canned the whole project because he thought it would fail.

Mayverb

Used in modesty, courtesy, or concession, or to soften a question or remark.

Canverb

To shut up.

Can your gob.

Mayverb

To gather may, or flowers in general.

Canverb

To fire or dismiss an employee.

The boss canned him for speaking out.

Mayverb

To celebrate May Day.

Cannoun

A more or less cylindrical vessel for liquids, usually of steel or aluminium, but sometimes of plastic, and with a carrying handle over the top.

Maynoun

The hawthorn bush or its blossoms.

Cannoun

A container used to carry and dispense water for plants (a watering can).

Maynoun

(archaic) A maiden.

Cannoun

A tin-plate canister, often cylindrical, for preserved foods such as fruit, meat, or fish.

Maynoun

the month following April and preceding June

Cannoun

A chamber pot, now a toilet or lavatory.

Shit or get off the can.Bob's in the can. You can wait a few minutes or just leave it with me.

Maynoun

thorny Eurasian shrub of small tree having dense clusters of white to scarlet flowers followed by deep red berries; established as an escape in eastern North America

Cannoun

Buttocks.

Cannoun

(slang) Jail or prison.

Bob's in the can. He won't be back for a few years.

Cannoun

Headphones.

Cannoun

(archaic) A drinking cup.

Cannoun

(nautical) A cube-shaped buoy or marker used to denote a port-side lateral mark

Cannoun

A chimney pot.

Cannoun

airtight sealed metal container for food or drink or paint etc.

Cannoun

the quantity contained in a can

Cannoun

a buoy with a round bottom and conical top

Cannoun

the fleshy part of the human body that you sit on;

he deserves a good kick in the buttare you going to sit on your fanny and do nothing?

Cannoun

a plumbing fixture for defecation and urination

Cannoun

a room equipped with toilet facilities

Canverb

preserve in a can or tin;

tinned foods are not very tasty

Canverb

terminate the employment of;

The boss fired his secretary todayThe company terminated 25% of its workers

Comparison Chart

CanMay
An auxiliary verb that is used to express ability and to ask permissionAn English auxiliary verb that is used to express possibility or to seek permission
Use
InformalFormal
Permission
SometimesAlways
Tone
Less politeMore polite

Can vs. May

The use of Can is observed in informal talks. As compared to its counter word Can, the verb May is used more in formal situations. Can is an auxiliary verb in the English language that is used to express ability and to ask permission. May is also an English auxiliary verb that is used to express possibility or to seek permission. In the informal situation, ‘Can’ imply the meaning that a person is able to do some task; in informal talks, it is used to ask for permission. May is mostly used formally to take or give permission for doing something; in general, it discusses any possibility or happenings of the future.

Can refer to the possibility or capability to do something, e.g., ‘I am sure that I can complete my assignment today. May denotes the seeking of permission, e.g. ‘May I take this book?” When seeking permission, Can is used with peers or age fellows as it sounds less formal and less polite. May sounds more formal, and it is correctly used when asking for permission from a teacher or of a person superior in age or rank.

Can is less polite, and it is used in the frank and casual situation of taking permission. May is more polite, and it is used in and making requests, and the situations of courtesy. Can also refer to determine the ability, e.g., ‘Can you lift the table alone?’ May refer to denotes possibility, e.g., You may lift the table alone.

What is Can?

Can is an auxiliary verb that is used to express the physical or mental ability of a person to do something. e.g., “Can you translate this letter into English?” It is also implied to request for something, e.g., Can you pass the pen to the boy sitting next to you? Sometimes it also denotes the possibility, e.g., You can be fine with prevention and care. It is used to offer help or suggestion, e.g., Can I solve the puzzle for you?

The word Can is derived from the Old English word cunnan, meaning “to be able.” It mainly refers to the capability of a person. In the informal situation, it also asks for permission to do something. If a question asks by implying ‘Can,’ the auxiliary verb can also have ‘Can’ in its answer. e.g., Can you pass me the remote? No, I can’t.

Examples

  • Can you do the salsa?
  • Can you play cricket or tennis?
  • He can complete the level of game within minutes.
  • She can run a six-minute mile.
  • Can I bring that book to you?

What is May?

May is an auxiliary verb that is used to ask for or to grant permission. It is used in formal situations. When someone asks for permission by applying my, then the reply will also be having ‘May’ in the formal situation. For example, if a person says, “May I come inside?” then the other would say, “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not come in.”

May is used for creating more politeness. People prefer using May in the formal scenario, e.g., At a fancy restaurant asking the waiter, “May I have some more water?” However, the word May do not express an ability. The appropriate meanings with May are, it is used to represent the possibility, e.g., She may not like the cake I baked for her. It is used to ask or give permission. Furthermore, May is used to expressing wishes and hopes, e.g., “May all your dreams come true.”

Examples

  • The candidate may bring standard calculators for the exams.
  • May I come in, ma’am?
  • You may take my book to read.
  • May you achieve new heights of success.
  • May you have a happy journey.
Conclusion

Can and May are the two different auxiliary verbs. Both are having a similar meaning but are different from one another. The difference between them lies in their usage and context.