english lessons

May

"May" is a modal verb most commonly used to express possibility. It can also be used to give or request permission, although this usage is becoming less common.

Examples:

  • Cheryl may be at home, or perhaps at work. possibility
  • Johnny, you may leave the table when you have finished your dinner. give permission
  • May I use your bathroom? request permission

Using "May" in Present, Past, and Future

Most modal verbs behave quite irregularly in the past and the future. Study the chart below to learn how "may" behaves in different contexts.

Modal Use Positive Forms
1. = Present   2. = Past   3. = Future
Negative Forms
1. = Present   2. = Past   3. = Future
Also use:
may
possibility
1. Jack may be upset. I can't really tell if he is annoyed or tired.

2. Jack may have been upset. I couldn't really tell if he was annoyed or tired.

3. Jack may get upset if you don't tell him the truth.

1. Jack may not be upset. Perhaps he is tired.

2. Jack may not have been upset. Perhaps he was tired.

3. Jack may not get upset, even if you tell him the truth

might
may
give permission
1. You may leave the table now that you're finished with your dinner.

2. SHIFT TO "BE ALLOWED TO"
You were allowed to leave the table after you finished your dinner.

3. You may leave the table when you finish your dinner.

1. You may not leave the table. You're not finished with your dinner yet.

2. SHIFT TO "BE ALLOWED TO"
You were not allowed to leave the table because you hadn't finished your dinner.

3. You may not leave the table until you are finished with your dinner.

can
may
request permission
May I borrow your eraser?

May I make a phone call?

Requests usually refer to the near future.

NO NEGATIVE FORMS can,
might

May Exercises

Modal Exercise 5have got to, had better, may and shall
Modal Exercise 7modal verb forms
Modal Verb Final Testcomplete review
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