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  1. #1
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    Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    Hi,

    I understand that the response to a
    "May I <somthing>?" question is
    "You may <something>"
    or
    "No, you may not <something>"

    What is the appropriate response for a
    "Shall I <something>?" question?

    It is a simple "yes", "sure", or a "no"?
    Because a response such as "you may"
    sounds strange for a "shall i" question.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    As it's normally an offer, 'yes, please' or 'no, thank you' would be appropriate.

  3. #3
    Archie is offline Member
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    I understand that if you ask someone "may I" and you get response "yes you may"; he or she is extremely reluctant to give you permission for something.

    For example Sherlock Holmes asked a lady in a train deparment
    "may I check this department" and answer from the lady was
    "yes you may" ("damn it")

    Am I right??

  4. #4
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    As it's normally an offer, 'yes, please' or 'no, thank you' would be appropriate.

    Thank you tdol. I appreciate it.

  5. #5
    Gilbert is offline Junior Member
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    The "may/may not" issue reminds me of something else:

    is there a difference between these situations?

    A
    - May I (do something)?
    - No, you may not!

    B
    - May I (do something)?
    - No, you must not (mustn't).

    I don't think the second one is ok, it does sound sort of awkward to me.

  6. #6
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilbert
    The "may/may not" issue reminds me of something else:

    is there a difference between these situations?

    A
    - May I (do something)?
    - No, you may not!

    B
    - May I (do something)?
    - No, you must not (mustn't).

    I don't think the second one is ok, it does sound sort of awkward to me.
    'may' doesn't operate in real English as it's often described in grammar books.

    "Despite a well-known prescription favoring 'may' rather than 'can' expressing permission, 'may' is especially rare in the sense of permission. Interestingly, many of the instances of 'may' marking permission in the LSWE corpus are produced by caregivers in conversations with children." [LSWE pg 493]

    An answer, as in A, above, sounds overly severe. It's certainly possible but what is used depends, this is important, on the effect that the speaker wants.

    In B, again, a 'must not' is possible, but it too sounds harsh because 'must' is a strong prohibition. If the speaker wants to express such, then of course it will/would work. Modals state our emotions and strong emotive responses are not as common as the more neutral ones.

    May/Can I do sth?, is more likely to be met with a 'uh-huh/un-un/yup/nope/no you can't/yes you can/well maybe/if you're good/if you clean your room/the possibilites are myriad.
    Last edited by DBP; 20-Sep-2005 at 09:20.

  7. #7
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    Okay, let's try to keep this short (or - let's try and keep this short - in speech..) "May I?" is asking for permission (generally speaking). "Shall I?" is asking the other person's opinion. Look at these two examples. (Don't pick up on my punctuation - I'm in Italy using an Italian keyboard layout with a British windows operating system...)

    May I open the window? (This asks for permission - similar to "Do you mind if I open the window? I'm hot...)

    Shall I open the window? (This is asking whether the other person wants the window to be opened. Maybe you have realised, or think, they (yes, THEY singular..) are hot).
    Hope it's clear....
    Dave

  8. #8
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    Quote Originally Posted by DBP
    'may' doesn't operate in real English as it's often described in grammar books.
    Isn't that a bit of an over-generalisation. It is less common than the presciptive view would have us believe, but it is by no means uncommon in many contexts. Though the old schoolroom answer to a can-I permission question of 'I don't know, can you?' is ridiculous and inaccurate, many do use it, especially in more formal contexts. 'May I' does clock in over thirteen million instances in Google, though many of these will have different meanings and it's under a tenth of 'can I', but is a form that exists and is used.

  9. #9
    Gilbert is offline Junior Member
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    DBP: thanks, I knew it! It is perfectly clear that the "may I?/you may not" is not as common; as far as my question, I borrowed it from a Monty Python's sketch (where the answer was really snapped back (NO, YOU MAY NOT!).

    Anyway, there seems to be a relation between can/have to and may/must, where the latter pair express an inner attitude, while the first one express pair is related to either a possibility or a necessity depending on an external factor, say a circumstance. That will explain why "can" and "have to" operate much more often than "may" and "must". Am I right?

  10. #10
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    Re: Response to a question - 'may i' and 'shall i'

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    Isn't that a bit of an over-generalisation. It is less common than the presciptive view would have us believe, but it is by no means uncommon in many contexts. Though the old schoolroom answer to a can-I permission question of 'I don't know, can you?' is ridiculous and inaccurate, many do use it, especially in more formal contexts. 'May I' does clock in over thirteen million instances in Google, though many of these will have different meanings and it's under a tenth of 'can I', but is a form that exists and is used.
    I'd have said almost the same thing as you Tdol, but the studies don't seem to offer us a great deal of support.

    "Despite a well-known prescription favoring 'may' rather than 'can' expressing permission, 'may' is especially rare in the sense of permission. Interestingly, many of the instances of 'may' marking permission in the LSWE corpus are produced by caregivers in conversations with children." [LSWE pg 493]

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