#EngClass: Modal verb – May

In this particular session/post, we’ll talk about “may”. It is one of many modal verbs which modify main verbs. Modal verbs are often used to express an opinion or attitude about a possible fact or to control a possible action.

Modal verbs either show:

  • a decision on how certain something is (a speculation or prediction about a fact, talk about degrees of certainty, possibility, likelihood)
  • the desire to control an action (give or refuse permission, talk about obligation and necessity)

When to use “may”?

“May” is most commonly used to express possibility. Other than that, “may” is also used for the following purposes:

slide9

  1. To express future possibility.
    • Example:
      • She is very smart. I think she may get the scholarship.
  2. To give permission.
    • Example:
      • You may go out now that your homework is done.(Present)
      • You may go out after your homework is done. (Future)
  3. To ask for permission.
    • Example:
      • May I stay overnight?
  4. To talk about typical occurrences.
    • Example:
      • You may find it difficult if you drink coffee in the evening.
  5. To speculate about past actions. 
    • Example:
      • She is late. I think she may have overslept.
  6. To express wishes.
    • Example:
      • May all your wishes come true.

How to use “may”?

slide10

  • In an interrogative sentence, “may” is placed up front and followed by subject and verb.
  • To form a negative sentence, “not” is placed after the word “may”.
  • In a sentence, “may” is placed after subject and before verb.
  1. To express future possibility.
    • Example:
      •  (+) She is very smart. I think she may get the scholarship.
      • (-) I think she may not get the scholarship.
  2. To give permission.
    • Example:
      • (+) You may go out now that your homework is done.(Present)
      • (-) You may not go out. Your homework is not done.
    • Example:
      • (+) You may go out after your homework is done. (Future)
      • (-) You may not go out even after your homework is done.
  3. To ask for permission.
    • Example:
      • (?) May I stay overnight?
  4. To talk about typical occurrences.
    • Example:
      • (+) You may find it difficult to sleep if you drink coffee in the evening.
      • (-) You may not find it difficult to sleep if you drink milk.
  5. To speculate about past actions.
    • Example:
      • (+) She is late. I think she may have overslept.
      • (-) She arrived looking tired. I think she may not have overslept.

Speculating past action

slide17

“May” can also be used to form a past tense sentence to express past possibility.

  • To express past possibility, “may” is followed by “have” and past participle (verb3).
    • Example:
      • She may have been waiting in the rain. She was feverish.
  • To form a negative sentence when talking about past possibility, “not” is placed right after “may”.
    • Example:
      • She may not have been waiting in the rain. Her clothes were dry.

Giving permission in the past

slide20

To express giving permission in the past, we do not use “may”. Instead, we use “be allowed to“. Both are synonymous, except “be allowed to” can be used to give permission in the present, past and future.

  • When we talk about giving permission in the past, “be allowed to” is positioned after subject and followed by an infinitive verb. And since we’re talking a past event, we use “was” or “were”.
    • Example:
      • He was allowed to go on a holiday.
  • To form a negative sentence when talking about giving permission in the past, “not” is slipped in right after “was/were”.
    • Example:
      • He was not allowed to go on a holiday.
  • To form an interrogative sentence when talking about giving permission in the past, “was/were” is placed up front followed by the subject, “allowed to” and the infinitive verb.
    • Example:
      • Was he allowed to go on a holiday?

Feel free to ask if you have any question in relation to “may”. Simply drop a comment down below or contact us on Twitter.

Compiled and written by @miss_qiak for @EnglishTips4U on Wednesday, January 18, 2017


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6 responses to “#EngClass: Modal verb – May

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