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    • Join Date: Aug 2008
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    #1

    may vs will vs ?

    My 10-year-old step-daughter asked, "May you please open this box for me?" When I suggested the use of the word "Will" or "Can" at the beginning of her sentence and to insert the word "please" at the end instead, I was immediately corrected my her mother who told me her daughter use of the word "May" was correct and that her sentence was correct.

    What is the correct way for my step-daughter to ask this question?

    Thanks!
    Last edited by catstongue; 22-Aug-2008 at 01:21.

  1. BobK's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: may vs will vs ?

    The BNC has these 52 cases of "may you *":

    1 MAY YOU HAVE 8
    2 MAY YOU BE 7
    3 MAY YOU CHANGED 2
    4 MAY YOU LIVE 2
    5 MAY YOU MAY 2
    6 MAY YOU 'RE 2
    7 MAY YOU , 2
    8 MAY YOU TURN 1
    9 MAY YOU TAKE 1
    10 MAY YOU STARE 1
    11 MAY YOU SLEEP 1
    12 MAY YOU SEE 1
    13 MAY YOU ROT 1
    14 MAY YOU REMAIN 1
    15 MAY YOU PASS 1
    16 MAY YOU OPEN 1
    17 MAY YOU NEVER 1
    18 MAY YOU LOOK 1
    19 MAY YOU 'LL 1
    20 MAY YOU LASTLY 1
    21 MAY YOU GET 1
    22 MAY YOU GAIN 1
    23 MAY YOU FIND 1
    24 MAY YOU FIGHT 1
    25 MAY YOU ENJOY 1
    26 MAY YOU DESCRIBE 1
    27 MAY YOU CONTINUE 1
    28 MAY YOU COME 1
    29 MAY YOU CAN 1
    30 MAY YOU BOTH 1
    31 MAY YOU BLAZE 1
    32 MAY YOU ASK 1
    33 MAY YOU AND 1
    34 MAY YOU ALWAYS 1
    TOTAL 52
    see more here: [Davies/BYU] BYU-BNC: British National Corpus

    But we are talking about Am E. Here are the results for the COCA:
    1 MAY YOU LIVE 26
    2 MAY YOU HAVE 25
    3 MAY YOU BE 21
    4 MAY YOU FIND 11
    5 MAY YOU NEVER 10
    6 MAY YOU EVER 8
    7 MAY YOU AND 6
    8 MAY YOU ALWAYS 6
    9 MAY YOU CONTINUE 5
    10 MAY YOU BOTH 5
    11 MAY YOU RUN 5
    12 MAY YOU REST 5
    13 MAY YOU KNOW 4
    14 MAY YOU NOT 3
    15 MAY YOU LOVE 3
    16 MAY YOU GET 3
    17 MAY YOU BURN 3
    18 MAY YOU ALSO 2
    19 MAY YOU ALL 2
    .
    .
    .
    TOTAL 233
    Many more, but still no 'please'.

    It is little surprise that your daughter's mother defends the usage; she probably taught it! But it's wrong.

    b

    PS You could move the "please" as you suggest. It makes the request slightly more polite (since 'will you please...' is often used in a more peremptory context - e.g. 'Will you please stop talking?', 'Will you please get to the point?...)
    Last edited by BobK; 22-Aug-2008 at 18:17. Reason: PS added

  2. Raymott's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: may vs will vs ?

    Quote Originally Posted by catstongue View Post
    My 10-year-old step-daughter asked, "May you please open this box for me?" When I suggested the use of the word "Will" or "Can" at the beginning of her sentence and to insert the word "please" at the end instead, I was immediately corrected my her mother who told me her daughter use of the word "May" was correct and that her sentence was correct.

    What is the correct way for my step-daughter to ask this question?

    Thanks!
    It's not correct in standard English. It could be correct in the dialect of the girl's mother. But maybe the mother would have supported her daughter's usage whatever she'd said?


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    #4

    Re: may vs will vs ?

    Thank you for your assist. What is the best way to explain to my wife and step-daughter in plain English that the composition of the question "May you please open this jar for me?" was wrong? Is there a good book I could purchase and use as a reference?

    So far the best I've managed is, "It just doesn't sound correct to me." My opinion hasn't sat well with them and they want a better explanation from me. If there is such a thing, how do I explain the "grammatical ergonomics" of a question that has been properly composed?
    Last edited by catstongue; 22-Aug-2008 at 22:46.


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    #5

    Re: may vs will vs ?

    A little background: My wife was born and raised in California and has a post-graduate college degrees in Engineering and Mathematics from the California State University system, so its safe to say that she's a Californian and her native dialect is English. I grew up in Hawaii where children are exposed to so-called pidgin English. I have two years of college and my native dialect is also English, but to a different degree than my wife or others who have not experienced or were immersed in pidgin English, I suppose. I've done my share of travels and have been exposed to different ways in the use of the English language. As it is, I go with what feels comfortable to my ears...hence "grammatical ergonomics".

    Still, I believe there are correct ways to ask questions and I'd like to know what they are.

  3. BobK's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: may vs will vs ?

    Quote Originally Posted by catstongue View Post
    ...

    Still, I believe there are correct ways to ask questions and I'd like to know what they are.
    There are two possible approaches: to regurgitate what so-called grammar books say (which can be a good way to pass exams if you're lucky enough to pick a book or books that reflects the bees in your examiner's bonnet); or to consider what actually happens. I prefer the second approach.

    I suggest you point your wife to the Corpus of Contemporary American: http://corpus.byu.edu/coca :
    THE CORPUS OF CONTEMPORARY
    AMERICAN ENGLISH

    360+ MILLION WORDS, 1990-2007
    If you prefer a more discursive approach all I can say is that "may" with a second person subject is used in English to express wishes for the future (such as 'May you live in interesting times') and not requests of any kind.

    As Raymott said, your wife's dialect may admit this non-standard usage. I would imagine there's a strong Hispanic influence on the language spoken in California. His (and my) use of "dialect" isn't a reflection on any individual's mastery of standard English; but as COCA shows conclusively standard American English doesn't admit requests starting 'May you please...'.

    b


    • Join Date: Aug 2008
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    #7

    Re: may vs will vs ?

    Thank you! This is great stuff. There's lots to learn and I'm feeling empowered by all of your help!

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