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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    Post Difference between May And Can

    What is different between This sentence?

    May i speak to Mr..
    Can i speak to Mr..

  2. Roman55's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    I am not a teacher.

    There is (or was) a real difference between "may" and "can" which is in danger of disappearing.

    May I speak to Mr X? (with a capital "I") is asking permission, or enquiring about the possibility of speaking to Mr X.

    Can I speak to Mr X? has come to mean the same thing, but is actually asking whether you have the ablility to speak to him.

  3. MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    Quote Originally Posted by jan121 View Post
    What is different between This sentence?

    May i speak to Mr..
    Can i speak to Mr..
    I agree with Roman about the past distinction between "may" and "can", but it has pretty much disappeared. These days the only real difference in your two examples is one of formality and politeness, with "may" being the more formal and more polite version.

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    #4

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    I think it has disappeared in this context; it only really survives in discussions like these. When I was at primary school decades ago, teachers who thought that I don't know whether you can go to the toilet, but you may go was funny sounded like dinosaurs. We can still make the meaning clear when we want to outside the context of asking for permission, so it doesn't strike me as much of a loss.

  4. Conatus's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    Hi,

    The version with "can" requires a "please" at the end to be polite, although informal, isn't it?

    (Neither a teacher nor a native speaker.)
    Last edited by Conatus; 28-Feb-2014 at 19:50.

  5. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    Quote Originally Posted by Conatus View Post
    Hi,

    The version with "can" requires a "please" at the end to be polite, altough informal, isn't it?

    (Neither a teacher nor a native speaker.)
    Any request requires "please" somewhere in it for it to be more polite.

    Please may I speak to ...
    Please can I speak to
    May I speak to XXX, please?
    Can I speak to XXX, please?
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

  6. Conatus's Avatar
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    #7

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    Any request requires "please" somewhere in it for it to be more polite.

    Please may I speak to ...
    Please can I speak to
    May I speak to XXX, please?
    Can I speak to XXX, please?
    Thanks!

    Sorry. I'm afraid I was not clear. Yes, in both cases, "please" make the questions more polite. I'll reformulate my question:

    Let's assume I'm a tourist talking to a local person in the streets of the city I'm exploring.

    If I say to this person "Can I ask you a question?" -- without the "please" -- would it sound impolite?

    Alternatively, if I say "May I ask you a question?" would it not sound impolite -- even tough without the "please" -- because of the formality given by the use of "may"?

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    #8

    Re: Difference between May And Can

    Quote Originally Posted by Conatus View Post
    Thanks!

    Sorry. I'm afraid I was not clear. Yes, in both cases, "please" make the questions more polite. I'll reformulate my question:

    Let's assume I'm a tourist talking to a local person in the streets of the city I'm exploring.

    If I say to this person "Can I ask you a question?" -- without the "please" -- would it sound impolite?

    Alternatively, if I say "May I ask you a question?" would it not sound impolite -- even tough without the "please" -- because of the formality given by the use of "may"?
    Although "May I" might be considered more formal than "Can I", I certainly wouldn't consider someone impolite if they stopped me and said "Can I ask you a question?" I would find it impolite if they simply stopped me and said "Where's the library?"
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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