Unit 8.2

May: Modals of Possibility

Modal Verbs

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Introduction

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.

Form

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

Affirmative

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

Subject may Verb
I/You may work
He/She/It may work
We/You/They may work

Negative

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

Subject may + not Verb (infinitive)
I/You may not work
He/She/It may not work
We/You/They may not work

Interrogative

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

May Subject Verb Question
Mark
May I/you work ?
May he/she/it work ?
May we/you/they work ?

Example

Affirmative

Are not sure about something

  • I’m afraid I may be late.
  • Susana may come to see you tomorrow.
  • There may be too many people at the post office.

Give or ask for Permission

  • You may take this plate.
  • She may answer the phone.
  • They may travel by plane.

Express wish or hope

  • May the force be with you.
  • May you both be happy together.
  • May we have rain this year.

Negative

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

Interrogative

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

Use

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 a permission or express prohibition or uncertainty.

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

Summary

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

We can use it in its different forms:

  • Affirmative: We start with the subject followed by may and the verb.
  • Negative: We start with the subject followed by may not and the verb.
  • Interrogative: We start with may followed by the subject and the verb (the sentence ends with a question mark).

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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