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THE MODEL VERB MAY: MEANING, FORM AND USES

By Learning English

Our English grammar lesson for today is the model verb may. In the following lines, I will talk about the form/forms of may and the main uses of this model verb. We will also put may in sentences so you will be able to understand when to use it and when not.


May: The Form.

May is used for all for all persons (first person, second person and third person) in the future and present.
The Affirmative Form of the Model Verb May is I may….
The Negative form is May Not (Mayn’t).
The Interrogative is May I?
Negative interrogative form is May I Not?

MAY: DEFINITION AND USES

Permission

May is used for permission. The infinitive is to allow/to be allowed.


First Person:

We/I may mean that I/We have the permission to do something.

      Examples:

I may visit my girlfriend as soon as I have done my job here. But this construction is not very common. It is more usual to say:
I can leave/ am allowed to visit my girlfriend as soon as I have done my job here. However, it is possible to use I/we may/might in sentences in indirect speech.

Read the following examples:

-He says we may go
-He said we might go.

Second and Third Person

In the second and third person, may is mainly used when the speaker is refusing/giving permission.

Example of may for giving permission:

You may park your car in this park.
Normally, it does not mean that you are allowed to do that by another authority. If the speaker does not have any authority, he would probably say:
-          You can park your car in this spot (I give you the permission to park in this spot)
Or
-          You are allowed to park your car your car in this spot (You have a right to do so).

MAY IS USED FOR PERMISSION IN FORMAL SITUATIONS

Examples:

Students may not bring smart phones into the examination room.
Each team may choose one member to represent the rest.
You may keep using our streaming services. After that you must pay for the licence.

NOTE: we use allow in the past tense in indirect speech whether in the active or passive.

Examples:

I allowed him to attend a session for free last week.
Students were not allowed to bring textbooks the previous term.
We did not allow our children to go outside because of Coronavirus.

MAY: REQUESTS FOR PERMISSION


Both can and may are used to ask for permission. However, can is normally used in situations that are less formal than may. In requests, the difference between them is less marked. We can say: could/can/may I borrow your new edition of this book?
It is more appropriate to use may in formal situations to ask for permission. On the other side, could/can? is less formal than may I? .

NOTE: May I? is reported might I? (past) in the indirect speech.

Example:

She asked me if she might leave the office early.

Conclusion

Throughout this article, I tried to give you the meaning of the model verb may and clarify the uses of it with examples. I also made a comparison with other model verbs (can and could) to avoid confusion.




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