'May' for permission

Is 'may' more polite than 'can' when asking for permission?

  • No

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Yes

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
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Tdol

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I use them both, but use 'may' as the more polite form. ;-)
 
W

Will

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I voted yes. 'May' implies that you want to do something, whereas 'can' implies that you aren't sure if you're able to do it.
 

dduck

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Will said:
I voted yes. 'May' implies that you want to do something, whereas 'can' implies that you aren't sure if you're able to do it.

In modern usage 'can', in the example 'Can I help you?' isn't asking if I have the ability to help, instead it's asking 'How am I able to help'. Some very old fashioned teachers will probably object to this definition, but if you listen to the average Joe, that's how you'll hear him speaking.

I'd say that 'may' is more formal, and old fashioned and thus more polite.

Iain
 

Tdol

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I use 'may' to be more polite. I think the old distinction is meaningless nowadays. ;-)
 
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Will

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What I meant was that when asking to do something 'may' seems more polite. Though, with the example Shane gave, one could come back, if they were in an especially snippy mood, with "I don't know; can you?" And that can only be bad. But I think 'may' is always more polite than 'can'.
 

dduck

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Will said:
Though, with the example Shane gave, one could come back, if they were in an especially snippy mood, with "I don't know; can you?" And that can only be bad.

As a sidenote and going against my previous post... I read "Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus". The author raises a good point concerning the expression "Could you...". He points out that this might cause upset in a relationship because of its perceived connection to ability. Instead the author suggests couples use the expression "Would you ...".

Grammar is a difficult ship to steer. :)
Iain
 

Tdol

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And language tricky waters. ;-)
 
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CitySpeak

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Will said:
I voted yes. 'May' implies that you want to do something, whereas 'can' implies that you aren't sure if you're able to do it.


There is nothing wrong with using "can" to ask permission to do something. It would be obvious enough given the context what is meant by "can".

"Can I use your bathroom?"

"Can I have a glass of water?"

"Can I use your telephone?"


Surely, you would not think that the speaker that asks these questions is unsure that he or she is able to actually "use your bathroom", "have a glass of water", or "use your telephone". I don't know. Maybe you'd misunderstand those questions? I don't think anyone else would.

There is nothing wrong with using "can" for permission or a request. "Can" is used for ability, to make a suggestion, to request something and to ask a permission.

One can use "may" for a request or permission if one so desires.

We can also use the negative form of "can" to emphasize that we think something is not so or that we are very surprised about something that is so.

"It can't be snowing again!"

"This can't be chicken! It has to be turkey."



:D :D :D
 

RonBee

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CitySpeak said:
There is nothing wrong with using "can" for permission or a request. "Can" is used for ability, to make a suggestion, to request something and to ask a permission.

I agree. I would say that in fact can is used far more often than may for asking permission, especially in informal (most) situations. There are, of course, some situations in which may is more appropriate.

:)
 
C

CitySpeak

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Will said:
What I meant was that when asking to do something 'may' seems more polite. Though, with the example Shane gave, one could come back, if they were in an especially snippy mood, with "I don't know; can you?" And that can only be bad. But I think 'may' is always more polite than 'can'.

I use "can" and "could" for permission and requests. Most others also do. Those are polite enough.

A girl in my advanced class told me her supervisor at work laughed at her when she said "May I use use the bathroom?"

supervisor: "Just go to the bathroom Sonia LOL!"

She told me her other teachers told her she has to use "may" for permission or a request.

Let's teach people how to speak real English. "May" has a time and a place, but those times and places are far more few and between than some would like to think.


Real English,

8)
 

Red5

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CitySpeak said:
I use "can" and "could" for permission. Most others also do. Those are polite enough.

For some situations, yes, but not all.
 
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