When I was kiddo, my Momma would say this to me all the time when I would ask if I could do something. Mom, can I go outside? I dunno Rae Can you?
I knew what she meant or rather what she was waiting for: Mom May I go outside? And then she would give me her answer.
She never really explained to me when to use each variation of the word Can/May, just corrected me mid-sentence/question.
I think today, the correct use of the word Can/May has not been taught or corrected. It effects professional emails and writings, as well as the formal quality of the written word. So I figured I would give a brief explanation of when is the correct time to use Can/May.
By definition, Can means to be able to or to be permitted to. Can is very informal especially in modern speech, but it is also seen in what should be formal writing. Can is a verb that should be used to express an ability to do something. Here are a few examples: Can the baby sit up yet? Can Jane run faster than her brother?
In both of these instances, Can is used to elaborate when questioning an ability. Sitting up is an ability for a baby, and running fast is also.
By definition, May means to express possibility or to express permission. May is the formal use of the verb. A few examples of this use of the verb are: May I go outside? That May be a possibility.
May is used in these examples as a helping verb. It is used to ask for permission and to help portray a degree of possibility in something.
So to sum up, use the word Can when you are talking about an ability to do something, and use the word May when you are asking permission or implementing a degree of possibility.
Pretty easy huh? Practice makes perfect, and utilizing the correct version of verbs not only reflects consideration when writing on your part but also will help the person reading your message uncover the correct message.
Do you use the words CAN/MAY correctly? Did I explain the use in an easy and understandable way? Please let me know!