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    • Join Date: Feb 2007
    • Posts: 1
    #1

    Quick English Help!

    My daughter recently has begun what I can only describe as an annoying trend that her third grade teacher has drilled into her head. This teacher is, in my opinion, using the word "may" in the wrong context. She does not believe so but please someone else be the judge on this. My daughter uses questions such as the following toward me:

    "May you play the Play Station with me?"

    This sounds completely wrong to me since the word "may' is not meant to be used in the second person in question form. Am I right to want this teacher to stop?


    • Join Date: Aug 2006
    • Posts: 3,059
    #2

    Re: Quick English Help!

    Quote Originally Posted by ramgrl View Post
    My daughter recently has begun what I can only describe as an annoying trend that her third grade teacher has drilled into her head. This teacher is, in my opinion, using the word "may" in the wrong context. She does not believe so but please someone else be the judge on this. My daughter uses questions such as the following toward me:

    "May you play the Play Station with me?"

    This sounds completely wrong to me since the word "may' is not meant to be used in the second person in question form. Am I right to want this teacher to stop?
    This being the USA, I see you're from Virginia, Ramgrl, the teacher may be instructing your daughter to not use 'can' to ask permission. For some silly reason, this nonsensical and completely unnatural "rule" seems to be forced upon students in about grade 3 or 4.

    Since these "teachers" tell students they can't use 'can' to ask permission, your daughter might simply be extending this to the example in question.

    While it is laudable to encourage children to be more polite, why tell children lies about language? These grade three students already intuitively know how the rules work with regard to 'may' and 'can'. They know that 'may' is more polite and they deploy it as needed.

    I once told a friend, who is a teacher in a northern state, that the kids just don't follow the advice given them by their teachers on this may/can thing and she replied, "Yeah, they just don't get it, do they?"

    I said, "[name], it's the teachers who just don't get it. Your daughter asks you for permission all the time using 'can' and you reply in a completely natural fashion, with not a thought given to the "rule", yet you try to teach this nonsense in school."

    Her jaw dropped to the floor, not because of what I said but because of the sheer ludicrousness of this "rule".


    M-W online:

    can

    usage

    Can and may are most frequently interchangeable in senses denoting possibility; because the possibility of one's doing something may depend on another's acquiescence, they have also become interchangeable in the sense denoting permission. The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts.

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    #3

    Re: Quick English Help!

    The question would be OK if your daughter were asking one of her friends if she had permission to play with her, but to ask you that way just strikes me as plain wrong, though I am a British English speaker.

    May I play with you?
    May you play with me? If asked of someone subject to external authority who may not be allowed to play (friend)
    May you play with me, mum? (except in the most extreme patriarchal societies)


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