Can versus May

person Team HelloEnglishfolder_openGrammaraccess_time October 26, 2016

Can versus May

We have been corrected for the usage of ‘Can’ and ‘May’ ever since we were in school. Remember your teacher or parent saying, “you can but you may not”. Well, here is the difference between Can versus May.


It is used to show your ability to do something. It means whether a certain task is possible for you to do or not.

  • I can drive.
  • I can run the marathon.
  • Can he lift this?


It is used when you want to ask for permission. It is a more polite way of talking.

  • May I come in?
  • May I borrow your book?
  • You may swim here.

‘Can’ is sometimes used for permission as well but that is only in an informal way. The ideal usage would be ‘May’.

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