Unit 8.2

May: Modals of Possibility

Modal Verbs

A modal verb is a type of auxiliary (helping) verb that has no meaning on its own but it modifies the main verb, changes its meaning and gives more details about the action.

May is a type of auxiliary modal verb used to express the possibility for something to happen and also to ask for or give permission.

May always has the same form, even for the third person singular, and we usually find this structure in its three forms.


Its structure, in the affirmative form, is:
Subject + may + verb + …



Its structure, in the negative form, is:
Subject + may + not + verb + …

Subjectmay + notVerb (infinitive)
I/Youmay notwork
He/She/Itmay notwork
We/You/Theymay notwork


Its structure, in the interrogative form, is:
May + subject + verb + …?



  1. Permission
    • You may take this plate.
    • She may answer the phone.
    • They may travel by plane.
  2.  Uncertainty/possibility
    • I’m afraid I may be late.
    • Susana may come to see you tomorrow.
    • There may be too many people at the post office.
  3. Express wish or hope
    • May the force be with you.
    • May you both be happy together.
    • May we have rain this year.


  • You may not answer the phone call!
  • She may not leave a message.
  • I’m afraid that we may not interview the director.


  • May I answer an important phone call?
  • May she leave you a message?
  • May we interview the director?

We use may in the affirmative form when we:

  • Are not sure about something;
  • Give or ask for permission;
  • Express wish or hope.

We use may in the negative form when we refuse the permission or express uncertainty.

We use may in the interrogative form when we want to make a polite request.

The modal verb may expresses permission, possibility for something to happen, wishes or hopes. The Negative form expresses prohibition or uncertainty, and the interrogative form is used for polite requests.

The structures are:

  • Affirmative: Subject + may + verb + …
  • Negative: Subject + may + not + verb + …
  • Interrogative: May + subject + verb + …?

For example:
— Affirmative: “It may snow this winter.”
— Negative: “It may not snow this winter.”
— Interrogative: “May it snow this winter?

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.


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