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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#2), by Dennis Oliver

Modal Verbs #2:
Individual Modal Verbs


The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

Beginning with this Hint, we'll get information on individual
modal verbs. The first is


May #1:
Present and Future Time


For present and future time, the modal auxiliary may is used
in two ways: (1) to talk about
possibility and (2) to ask for
permission. For these meanings in present and future time,
may + a simple verb.

Examples: possibility




Where's George?

I don't know. He may be in class.
(It's possible that George is in class.)





What are your plans for tonight?

I'm not sure. I may go to a movie.
(It's possible that I'll go to a movie.)





Do you have change for a dollar?

I'm not sure. I may. Let me see.
(It's possible that I have change for a dollar.)

Examples: permission




We're finished with our work. May we leave?
(Do we have your permission to leave?)

Yes, you may. (Yes, you may leave. / Yes, you
have my permission to leave.)





May I borrow your dictionary?
(Do I have your permission to
borrow your dictionary?)

Of course you may. (Of course you may
borrow my dictionary. / Of course you have
my permission to borrow my dictionary.)





May my friends go to the party with me?
(Do my friends have your permission to go
to the party with me?)

No, they may not. (No, your friends may not
go to the party with you. / No, your friends
do not have my permission to go to the party
with you.


Special Notes:


may be and maybe

Maybe and may be have similar meanings,
but different grammar:

Maybe she's worried. /
may be worried.

Maybe I'll be at Sarah's party. /
may be at Sarah's party.

Maybe there'll be a test tomorrow. /
may be a test tomorrow.

A: Is Bob angry?
B: I don't know.
Maybe. / He may be.

(Maybe is used before a sentence; may be
comes after a subject--and often before
a phrase.)


may for permission

When asking permission, do not use may

not this: *May you help me?

(It isn't logical to ask someone to give himself
or herself permission to do something.)


Next: more modal verbs
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