Difference Between Can and May

We all are surrounded by various languages. French, German, Spanish, English, and many more languages with a different set of words, but the meaning remains the same if we translate.

If we talk about English, it’s the accepted norm across the world. To establish a network between strangers, it is essential to know English.

Can vs May

The main difference between can and may is that the word can mean the ability to do something, or when you’re allowed to perform a task, whereas the word may mean to discuss some possibility or happening in future.

An example could be like, “Can you ride the scooter? Or may I ride the scooter?

Can vs May

The word ‘can’ is one of the auxiliary verbs that explains a thing or an action that is possible to be done. Also, it means doing something that seems relatively informal or when someone allows you to do a specific task.

On the other hand, the word ‘may’ is also an auxiliary verb that means to talk about chances or possibilities of happenings. Also, it can be used to give some permission or seek something for doing something.

Comparison Table Between Can and May

Parameters Of ComparisonCanMay

Meaning of word
It means the ability to perform a task.It discusses possibility or chance.
GrantIt could be granted sometimes.It’s like a certain thing or a sure thing.
ToneIt’s informal in nature.It’s formal.
Nature wiseIt simply defines possibility, so it’s an expression.It is a possibility to it’s strong in nature.
ExamplesCan I go to the washroom?
I can come with you.
We can reach on time.
All of us can pray.
May I go with him?
I may come tomorrow.
I may not be able to do this till midnight.
May you succeed every time.

What is Can?

It’s a part of the English language which has a meaning and make sense when appropriately used in an English sentence. It’s an auxiliary verb that indicates a possibility or anything whose happening is possible.

It denotes the ability of a person. It’s also used to examine a case of an informal task to be entertained.

The usage and implementation part remains vital because it could change the meaning if it’s used in an inappropriate situation.

If we take an example of a boy seeking permission to go to the washroom and ask the teacher, he says, ” Mam, can I go to the washroom?”.

It will mean that if he’s capable of going to the washroom or not. As if he doesn’t know if he can.

Can is an informal part of speech that is totally ability-based. The tone is informal. It seems a simple thing when used in a sentence. The negative aspect of the can is Can’t.

This displays when the ability to do or to be done doesn’t work.
Some examples if we consider will be.
“Can I play the Guitar?”
“I can’t attend the meeting since it’s late.”
“I can walk 2 miles in 15 minutes.”


What is May?

The word may is a modal or auxiliary verb that describes the possibility of things to happen boldly. Also, the term may is heavier in nature wise.

Also, the permissions or granting something while may is used has higher chances to be executed.

This word was used in some manuscripts from the 8th century. It indicates a strength or power nature wise which was changed to a strong possibility or chances. If we see some example related to the word, it will be:

“There may be a storm today.”
“If you do the task, you may expect a promotion.”
“May you win all races of life.”
“You may come tomorrow morning.”
“I may not go tomorrow.”

The word may is quite dominating in nature. May is a formal tone as well. Also, when it’s used in a sentence, the chances of affirmation is more. The word may also seem quite happening or a strong possibility.


Main Differences Between Can and May

  1. The word can mean the ability of a task that can be done or a capability of a person, but the word indicates the possibility of a job that exists and the chances of happening.
  2. The term may is formal in tone, and the chances of yes or affirmation are quite more, whereas the word can is informal in nature, and the chances are pretty less.
  3. The word may have been seen used centuries back. Many manuscripts have used sentences that used may, but can is quite a new word as compared to the term may
  4. May is not an expressible word, whereas the word can is expressible. Since May is formal, it’s not that type, but ‘can’ is informal tone-wise. May is strong in nature as well compared to the latter one.
  5. Some examples of sentences using may are “May I go to the park?”, ” I may come tomorrow to discuss over the agenda.”, ” May you win this match.”, ” I may go by walking“. Examples of sentences using can are “I can come tomorrow.”, ” Can I be able to run 10 miles in one go?” or ” I can do this task”.
Difference Between Can and May


These two words belong to auxiliary verb and make a deep meaning when these are used in sentences. But what’s important is the usage and implementation part.

Many people get confuses, and they interchange words that change the whole meaning of a sentence.

Understanding the context is very important. Unless knowing the situation or the meaning of these two words will lead to something weird.

Remember, the word can mean the ability to memorize better and differentiate effectively, while the word may be used for seeking permission.


  1. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  2. https://academic.oup.com/poq/article-abstract/55/4/570/1861871
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