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Thread: Can vs May

  1. #1
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    Can vs May

    In Russian there no differences between “can” and “may”. I know the rule about these modal verbs, but sometimes I make mistake automatically. I just can’t deceive my unconscious.

    By the way, what way is right, if I want “rebel” (Как ты смеешь/можешь говорить это?!):
    1) How can you say that?!
    2) How may you say that?!

    Problem is in that, the Russian phrase has two meanings. I may say «смеешь» (“to dare”), and in this case, I think “may” is right choice. However, I may put another aspect in my words, and then this phrase would mean «[Да,] как твой язык поворачивается говорить это?!» (“How does your tongue turn [here means “moves”] to say that?!” — the common Russian indignation). So, I think the “can” is a more close verb in this case, but is it right to say "How can..." in English?

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    Завсегдатай sperk's Avatar
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    Re: Can vs May

    I think it's likely to be:
    How could you say something like that?

    Definately not "may."
    Кому - нары, кому - Канары.

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    Re: Can vs May

    How may is wrong here.
    do you know what Linux is?

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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by blacky
    How may is wrong here.
    Why? Is it wrong always or only in this case?

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    Завсегдатай sperk's Avatar
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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by Звездочёт
    Quote Originally Posted by blacky
    How may is wrong here.
    Why? Is it wrong always or only in this case?
    In this case it's wrong. You can say something like, "how may I help you" or "how may I be of service." But you can't say "how may you say something like that," when your meaning is "how dare you say something like that."
    Кому - нары, кому - Канары.

  6. #6
    Hanna
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    Re: Can vs May

    Звездочёт
    It's possible to speak quite good English without using the word "may"
    In 90 % of the cases you might just as well use "can". (=it is equally good to use "can")

    This is a tricky English word and it's difficult to explain it because it has a very wide range of possible uses.
    Gradually as you start getting better at English you will begin to understand how to use "may", but until then, "can" will do you nicely.

    Some examples of how to use "may"
    I think I may be losing my mind (=I think I'm going crazy)
    May I help you? (=Can I help? Would you allow me to help you? )
    He may not know her (=It's possible that he doesn't know her)
    May I be excused? (=Something that a child might (could) say if they want to leave the dinner table or similar);
    He may not find out about our secret project (=we can't allow him to find out about our secret project)
    No, you may not borrow my bicycle (=No I won't let you borrow my bicycle OR No you cannot borrow my bicycle)

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    Re: Can vs May

    Thanks you all for your explanations. I read something about can/may, and I found, that my knowledge of some verb’s aspects was (and maybe is) wrong. I understand now, why Sperk and Blacky said: “How may is wrong here”. However, I found also, that sometimes differences between may, can and their forms are not so clear. I hope, Johan’s advice “will save” me. And again, thank you all.

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    Re: Can vs May

    The word "may" is slowly dying in English and is being replaced by "can" in most uses.

    In your example you could also say "How could you say that? (with heavy stress on the word "say") to express indignation.

  9. #9
    Hanna
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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    The word "may" is slowly dying in English and is being replaced by "can" in most uses.
    It's alive and well in the UK!

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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by Звездочёт
    However, I found also, that sometimes differences between may, can and their forms are not so clear.
    Here's my extreme not-a-native-English-speaker temporary advice: for the time being try to avoid "can" and "may" altogether and use "could" instead. You rarely could go wrong with "could". And try to replace all "must" in your speech with "should". Hopefully, this could make your life easier as it should.

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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by Crocodile
    Quote Originally Posted by Звездочёт
    However, I found also, that sometimes differences between may, can and their forms are not so clear.
    Here's my extreme not-a-native-English-speaker temporary advice: for the time being try to avoid "can" and "may" altogether and use "could" instead. You rarely could go wrong with "could". And try to replace all "must" in your speech with "should". Hopefully, this could make your life easier as it should.
    We don't say "must" very often, so this part is good advice.

    can/may/might/could --these are, in my opinion, more difficult to use correctly. Sometimes can=could, sometimes it doesn't.

    One example:

    Mary: Will someone tell me how to find Sesame Street?
    Bob: I could tell you, but I won't. You were mean to me yesterday, and I am still angry.
    Luis: I can tell you. It is the next street on the right.

    In this context, Luis cannot say "could".

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    Re: Can vs May

    And better not to use "would" when addressing your boss.
    "...Важно, чтобы форум оставался местом, объединяющим людей, для которых интересны русский язык и культура. ..." - MasterАdmin (из переписки)



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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by Lampada
    And better not to use "would" when addressing your boss.
    А что взамен?

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    Re: Can vs May

    Quote Originally Posted by Звездочёт
    Quote Originally Posted by Lampada
    And better not to use "would" when addressing your boss.
    А что взамен?
    Could. Would is often used for a polite order.
    "...Важно, чтобы форум оставался местом, объединяющим людей, для которых интересны русский язык и культура. ..." - MasterАdmin (из переписки)



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    Re: Can vs May

    When asking permission,'may' is used.

    From elementary school:
    Student: "Can I go to the bathroom?"
    Teacher: "I hope so, but ask permission first."
    I'm easily amused late at night...

  16. #16
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    Re: Can vs May

    Sometimes people can be pedantic about the correct meaning of can and may, until you have a good grasp of using can i'd avoid using may. The example being years ago in school i can remember people asking if they could go to the toilet, the typical response would be "I suppose you can in that you are capable, but you may not", so avoid using words like may if people speak to you with hostility, which is unfortunatly more likely with the society today, not that they themselves would understand when to use 'may' correctly in a sentence. sorry for going off topic with the last part.

  17. #17
    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    Re: Can vs May

    Hey, there. I'm a novice here. I let myselt to give you a piece of advice:

    I really have no idea why not to use MAY/MIGHT.
    Treat the CAN as TO BE ABLE TO (Иметь физическую возможность)
    and the MAY as TO HAVE A PERMISSION FOR (Иметь разрешение)

    Can I go there? = Я могу (физически) пойти туда?
    and
    May I go there? = Разрешено ли мне ...?

    Use could/should/might as a "сослагательное наклонение" - БЫ/ЛИ-versions, like less agressive variant of saying something:
    Can you do it? = Вы можете сделать это?
    Could you do it? = Не могли бы Вы сделать это?

    You shall avoid obstacles. = Вы должны избегать препятствий (на дороге).
    You should avoid obstacles. = Не могли бы Вы избегать... (более мягкий вариант).

    You may do it . = Вам разрешено сделать это.
    You might do it. = Вы могли бы сделать это. (Like: You are permitted to do it....)

    If I eat these fifteen sandwiches, I might be thought as a glutton (literally - "мог бы быть подуман ....")
    sounds like: people [have right to] (may) think of me as a glutton.
    Another month ends. All targets met. All systems working. All customers satisfied. All staff eagerly enthusiastic. All pigs fed and ready to fly.

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