Blogs by Connie Vines
The "can" or "may" Conundrum
1/6/2011 8:47:52 PM
Is it "Can I" or "May I"?
Q: I still occasionally have to stop and think about the “can” and “may” conundrum. Could you explain the differences once and for all? —Brian M.
A: “Can” and “may” have distinct differences. “Can” expresses the ability to do something, physical or mental. I can lift my daughter over my head. I can add two plus three without a calculator. I can beat my editor in a game of Scrabble.
“May,” on the other hand, expresses permission to do something. My mom said I may go to the movies only if I muck out the stable.
All that being said, the tides of these words have been shifting over the years and, in informal settings, it has become fairly common (and somewhat acceptable) to use “can” when asking for permission.
I wouldn’t correct someone at a dinner party for asking if they “can” use the restroom, but I would definitely change it to “may” if I were editing her novel.
Post a Comment new!
More Blogs by Connie Vines
Zombie Nite Cafe - Sunday, September 25, 2011
"Oh where, oh where do I place the question mark?" - Saturday, January 08, 2011
The "can" or "may" Conundrum - Thursday, January 06, 2011
Love Potions and Charms - Thursday, January 01, 2009
Writing Good Fiction - Thursday, November 16, 2006
A Savvy Author's Tips for Creating Media Buzz - Wednesday, September 07, 2005
The Costs of of Publicity for Writer - Friday, April 15, 2005