may - definition and synonyms

modal verb 

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May is usually followed by an infinitive without ‘to’: It may rain.
Sometimes may is used without a following infinitive: I’d like to make one or two comments, if I may.
May does not change its form, so the third person singular form does not end in ‘-s’: He may arrive this afternoon.
Questions and negatives are formed without ‘do’: May I make a suggestion?She may not understand.
The negative form may not is sometimes shortened to mayn’t by British speakers of English, but it is not common.
May has no participles and no infinitive form.
There is no past tense, but may have followed by a past participle can be used for talking about past possibilities: She may have changed her mind and decided not to come. When indirect speech is introduced by a verb in the past tense, might is used as the past tense of may: I asked if I might see the paintings.
There is no future tense, but may is used for talking about future possibilities: I may go to London next week.
  1. 1
    used for showing possibility
    1. a.
      used for saying that there is a possibility that something is true or that something will happen

      There may be an easier way of solving the problem.

      The injury may have caused brain damage.

      I may not be able to play on Saturday.

      You may be asked to show your passport.

      Some fir trees may grow up to 60 feet high.

       Synonyms and related words
    2. b.
      formal used for saying that it is possible to do something in a particular way

      The bill may be paid by cheque or by credit card.

      The total may be calculated by two different methods.

  2. 2
    be allowed to do something
    1. a.
      spoken used for politely asking someone to let you do something

      May we come in now?

      May I use your phone?

       Synonyms and related words
    2. b.
      formal used for saying that something is allowed

      Visitors may use the swimming pool between 5.30 and 7.30 pm.

      You may take a short break now.

       Synonyms and related words
  3. 3
    spoken used when making a polite request or offer

    May I have a biscuit?

    May I help?

    May we offer you a glass of wine?

    May I see your ticket, please?

    See also can
  4. 4
    spoken used when making a polite remark or suggestion
    may I say/ask/suggest etc:

    May I say a word of thanks to all those who helped today.

    if I may:

    Let me, if I may, introduce you to my manager, Jim Doyle.

  5. 5
    formal used for saying that someone does something in order to achieve a particular purpose

    The dried fruit may be used through the winter.

     Synonyms and related words
See also