Difference Between Shall and May

If grammar is not used properly, the meaning of the message can change and hence one should know the correct usage of words according to the context. Grammar has eight parts of speech.

Shall vs May

The main difference between shall and may is that shall is used when you give a command or tell something inevitable, whereas may is used when one needs to ask permission and something is optional (not a command). Shall is mandatory, whereas may is used when it is left on an individual to make a decision.

Shall vs May

Shall acts like a command, something that is mandatory. It is used to express something likely to happen in the future.

May is a modal auxiliary verb that is used after the subject and before another verb. The word may is used to ask, give or refuse permission about a possibility or probability, also used in formal writing (academic or legal writing). It is sometimes used interchangeably with 'can'.

Comparison Table Between Shall and May

 Parameters of Comparison Shall   May
 Meaning Shall is used to give a command or express the futurity of something. May is used for asking, grant permission, or indicate a possibility of something.
 Intensity Comparatively sounds more intense. sounds less intense
 Past form Past variation of shall is should. Might is used at times as a part variation of May.
 Form of the Subject Indicates action by a singular or plural subject. May is used for indicating action by a singular subject.
 TenseFuture tense Simple past or present
 Indicates Shall indicates a manifestation of possibilities. May demonstrates an implied possibility.

What is Shall?

Shall is a modal auxiliary verb that is used to express simple futurity, things that seem likely to happen, or inevitable things. It is also used to express command in regular use or legal writing.

Shall is often used to indicate future actions when the subject is singular or plural. It can be used in the first, second, and third person.

The negative form of shall is 'shall not', and the contraction of shall not is 'shan't'. Past tense of shall is should, and it is usually confused with 'will'.

Examples - the usage of shall

  1. When used as a suggestion – "shall we take a cab home?"
  2. When used as an offer – "I shall make the arrangements for your stay."

What is May?

May is a modal verb that is used after the subject and before another verb. You cannot use May with another modal verb.

May is used for asking or grant permission, indicate possibility or probability, used in legal writings, it is a subordinate clause used to express a purpose. It sometimes gives a sense of uncertainty.

Examples – usage in a sentence

  1. When used as an explanation of something – "she may have been sleeping all day."
  2. When used as an indication of something – "he may be back this year."

Main Differences Between Shall and May

  1. Shall is used to give a command or express futurity of something, whereas may is used to ask, grant permission, or indicate a possibility.
  2. Shall gives a sense of certainty, whereas may is used when things are not certain.
Difference Between Shall and May


Grammar is the basic building block and the foundation of any language; each individual is taught about it since childhood.

Shall and may are both modal verbs that tend to have similarities, but their usage cannot be changed. They are both equally important whether used while speaking or writing.


  1. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110810301.115/html
  2. https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Y8-GvEPHA68C&oi=fnd&pg=PR1&dq=may+in+grammar&ots=4BNcy9LXkR&sig=m_f8VVVGiUcHtDJKKdB1T9yJR64
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