Can vs. May

Do you know the difference between can and may? Can and may are perhaps two of the most…

Do you know the difference between can and may?

Can and may are perhaps two of the most confusing words in the English language and are often incorrectly used interchangeably. As far as their meanings are concerned they are the same and they are both used in questions.

“Can” is used in the sense of being able to do something. In the following sentence

I believe that he really can do this.

the word means that the person has the ability to complete a task. The same thing can be seen in this sentence –He can pass that exam.

In both sentences it represents a possibility of success that is greater than the possibility of failure.

“May”, on the other hand, means there is a lower possibility of success over failure.

He may pass the exam. In this sentence the use of the word “may” means that there is a possibility that he will not be able to obtain a passing grade.

Can and may also have different meaning when they are used as questions.

“Can I come over to your house?” In this question the word means being able to physically do something, such as “Is it possible for me to be able to get to your house?”

If the same question is asked using “may”, the meaning is changed. May I come over to your house?” means that you are asking permission to visit.


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