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Pedants' corner

Can and May

(21 Posts)
Mollygo Tue 11-May-21 10:17:25

Am I the only one who remembers this?
Today on the news it was announced that in six days we can hug our family.
Actually, no I can’t because they live too far away, some abroad with Covid restrictions in place.
We were taught they meant different things.
We can = we are able to . . .
We may= we are allowed to. . .
It was a regular ‘joke’ at meal times until we remembered.
“Please can I leave the table?”
“Well you can leave it, because you can’t take it with you, but you may not leave it until everyone has finished.”

Alexa Tue 11-May-21 10:32:33

Which is correct "Labour may become popular again" or "Labour might become popular again" ?

Mollygo Tue 11-May-21 10:37:02

Alexa

Which is correct "Labour may become popular again" or "Labour might become popular again" ?

I learned may implies more likely, might implies less likely.
Used in your context, I’d retreat behind a barricade rather than answer!

ExD Tue 11-May-21 10:41:59

I remember a similar discussion in Latin lessons over 'shall' and 'will'.
I shall drown and no-one will save me.
(but I can't, for the life of me, remember what it was all about).

geekesse Tue 11-May-21 10:50:42

ExD

I remember a similar discussion in Latin lessons over 'shall' and 'will'.
I shall drown and no-one will save me.
(but I can't, for the life of me, remember what it was all about).

Simple inflection of 1st person in conjugation; I shall, you will, he, she, it will, we shall, you will, they will.

Alexa Tue 11-May-21 10:51:02

Mollygo LOL

ExD Tue 11-May-21 10:58:09

geekesse you and I obviously shared the same teacher.
Mollygo 'May' sounds hopeful and 'might' sounds possible so I suppose it depends on what your meaning is, so they are both correct. (I think)?

How do foreigners ever learn English?

Calendargirl Tue 11-May-21 11:03:04

I was told by the teacher that the shall and will meant determination.

“I shall drown and no one will save me” really meant he wanted saving.

“I will drown and no one shall save me” really meant, don’t bother to save me as I really intend to drown.

😳

Alexa Tue 11-May-21 11:08:22

The Latin verb that means 'to will' is ' volo' from which we get 'voluntary' and 'volition' , and 'will' via I suppose German, which have connotations of intention.

The English 'shall' and its Latin equivalent is an auxiliary verb for predicting a future event, which may or may not have anything to do with anybody willing it.

I think the exception is when I am defiant "I shall if I want to!" an example of the transforming power of the subjective.

Sunnyoutlook Tue 11-May-21 11:10:58

At junior school if you put your hand up and asked “can I go to the toilet” our teacher Mr Murphy would say “you can but you may not” Lesson learned!

greenlady102 Tue 11-May-21 11:14:55

geekesse

ExD

I remember a similar discussion in Latin lessons over 'shall' and 'will'.
I shall drown and no-one will save me.
(but I can't, for the life of me, remember what it was all about).

Simple inflection of 1st person in conjugation; I shall, you will, he, she, it will, we shall, you will, they will.

you missed the bit about inversion for emphasis....so "I shall eat a biscuit" differs in determination from "I will eat a biscuit" the first is a simple prediction of a future event, the second indicates a dermination to do something regardless.

Alexa Tue 11-May-21 11:16:50

Mr Murphy might have asked "What is stopping you?"
Sunny replies "You yourself and the school rules".

Mr Murphy: Thank you Sunny for being polite. You may be excused.

annsixty Tue 11-May-21 12:02:29

That made me smile and brought the memory of schooldays.
We had to put our hand up and say “ please may I leave the room”
The whys and wherefores were not stated.
Whether you were allowed or not depended on the softness of the teacher or whether or not he/ she liked you.

CherryCezzy Tue 11-May-21 13:38:33

When my nephew was at nursery my SiL noticed, to her annoyance, he had started using "can I" inappropriately. In her endeavour to educate him he became confused and started to say "may, can I". His confusion? My SiL's close friend was called May.

Alexa Tue 11-May-21 17:54:07

At my school "May I be excused?" was standard. It was so much taken for granted that 'being excused' was the normal euphemism for going to the toilet .

EllanVannin Tue 11-May-21 17:59:02

I always err on the side of caution and say may grin

grandtanteJE65 Thu 13-May-21 13:47:35

In Scotland we were taught that I shall, and we shall express the future, while in all other persons the future is expressed by will, as in he, she, it , you, they will do something tomorrow.

I will do it or the use of shall in the other persons expresses determination or an obligation imposed by a higher authority, as in the Ten Commandments "Thou shalt not steal" this is as we all know a moral obligation, not a matter of an intended future action.

"May I?" implies that I am asking permission, where "I can stand on my hands" tells the listen that the person is physically capable of the action.

I believe that may and can should be used in this manner in all parts of the U.K. whereas the shall/will usage depend in some contexts on Scottish grammar versus English grammar.

"might" is implying a lesser likelihood than "may" whereas "should" implies that it is even less likely to happen, or can do so, at any rate.

Try teaching the differences to foreign learners of English!

And of course American usage differs, as you might have guessed!

Puzzled Tue 18-May-21 16:49:20

Ah! The might of the subjunctive
And in being discussed in May!

MollyAA12 Sun 06-Jun-21 17:25:05

Oh dear if I said 'May I have a loaf pleae?' I would be thought of as rather old fashioned.

dustyangel Sun 06-Jun-21 17:45:09

Sounding rather old fashioned needn’t stop you saying it.

Greta Wed 09-Jun-21 12:38:54

My hairdresser cancelled my appointment. Her text to me:

"Please may you give the salon a call..."