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    #1

    can vs may

    Here are a few sentences I found on a site dedicated to grammar:

    Can you split an infinitive?

    Can you end a sentence with a proposition?

    Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?

    I'm wondering why "can" is used instead of "may." It's obvious that one "can" do all those things, i.e., it is possible to split an infinitive, to end a sentence with a proposition and to start a sentence with a conjunction. But the question is whether it is permissible under the rules of grammar, and therefore "may" should be used. Am I wrong?

    Thanks.

  1. Nightmare85's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: can vs may

    Hi,
    I think may cannot be used here.
    May = being allowed to do something.

    May you split an infinitive? = Are you allowed to split an infinitve? -> Makes no sense
    Can you split an infinitive? = Is it possible to split an infinitive? -> Everything's fine

    **Neither a teacher nor a native speaker.**

    Cheers!

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    #3

    Re: can vs may

    Quote Originally Posted by Jasmin165 View Post
    Here are a few sentences I found on a site dedicated to grammar:

    Can you split an infinitive?

    Can you end a sentence with a proposition?

    Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?


    But the question is whether it is permissible under the rules of grammar, and therefore "may" should be used. Am I wrong?

    Thanks.
    What you are suggesting follows the traditional formal rules of grammar, but those rules have long been widely ignored.
    In your sentences, "may" would sound very odd, especially 'May you....'.

    In this context, 'can' has totally replaced 'may'. But in some contexts 'may' can still be used very effectively, especially in formal and other polite circumstances.

    May I sit here?
    You may have as many as you wish.

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: can vs may

    Quote Originally Posted by Nightmare85 View Post
    May you split an infinitive? = Are you allowed to split an infinitve? -> Makes no sense
    "Are you allowed to split an infinitive?" does make sense, given that we're talking about prescriptive grammar.
    I wouldn't say "May you ... " or "May one ..." although the latter is grammatically correct.

    "May you split an infinitive" sounds like a wish for someone:
    May you live a long life and split many infinitives.

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    #5

    Re: can vs may

    Jane Straus, the author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, writes the following on her site:

    If this, that, these, or those has already introduced an essential clause, you may use which to introduce the next clause, whether it is essential or nonessential.

    So one could replace "may" in the sentence above with "can," and the sentence would still be correct?

  3. Raymott's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: can vs may

    Quote Originally Posted by Jasmin165 View Post
    Jane Straus, the author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, writes the following on her site:

    If this, that, these, or those has already introduced an essential clause, you may use which to introduce the next clause, whether it is essential or nonessential.

    So one could replace "may" in the sentence above with "can," and the sentence would still be correct?
    Yes, one could, one may, and one can.
    "Can" is very often used for "may" in this context - "Can I?" as a request for permission.

    "Can" is used more often in questions. It's more colloquial than "may".

    A: Can I use '
    which' to introduce the next clause?
    B: Yes you may.

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