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Can vs. May

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips
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Can vs. May: Navigating Permission and Possibility

Understanding the differences between "can" and "may" involves navigating nuances in expressing permission and possibility. This article aims to clarify the distinctions between "can" and "may," shedding light on their meanings, applications, and appropriate usage in various contexts.

Correct Usage:


"Can" is a modal verb used to indicate the ability or capability to do something. It expresses physical or mental capacity and is often used in informal contexts.


"May" is a modal verb used to indicate permission or possibility. It is employed to seek or grant permission in a more formal context or to express the likelihood or chance of something happening.

Meanings and Applications:


Use "can" when expressing the ability or capacity to perform a specific action. It focuses on one's physical or mental capability to accomplish something.


Use "may" when seeking or granting permission, or when expressing the likelihood or possibility of a particular event occurring. It is more formal and often used in polite or official settings.

Can vs. May


Correct: She can speak three languages fluently.

Correct: May I borrow your pen for a moment?

Contextual Considerations:

Consider the context and the nature of the statement when choosing between "can" and "may." If discussing ability or capacity, use "can." If seeking permission or expressing likelihood, use "may."


Navigating the distinctions between "can" and "may" allows for precise communication in different contexts. Whether expressing one's capability or requesting permission, understanding the specific meanings of these modal verbs enhances clarity and appropriateness in language use.

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    B She said, "I will come tomorrow."
    C I say, "I can do it."
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