Modal Verbs – May

May is used exactly the same way as “might” is used when talking about a possibility.

They may pass the test, they studied for it for a long time.

He may be at home, he said he wasn’t going anywhere.

They may travel to Africa next year.

As with “might”, “may” is used in the above examples to indicate a possibility of each of the situations.

The negative form of “may” is also used exactly the same way that “might not” is used. It emphasizes more doubt about the situation.

They may not pass the test; they didn’t study that hard for it.

He may not be at home, he said he might have to go to a meeting.

They may not travel to Africa next year, they might not get enough time off from work.

The structure when using “might” or “may” as a possibility is as follows:

Subject + Might/May

+ Verb in Infinitive Form

might go to the store.
might see your friend soon.
may call her later.
may be in Detroit now.
might get dark soon.
might eat at Sam’s, we are not sure.
may come to the picnic.

“MAY” Is also used when asking for formal permission. The request is usually for a person in authority such as an official, boss, or older relative. It’s commonly used in very polite requests.


Request: Mother, may I go to the movies with Gabriela after dinner?

Answer: Yes you may.

Request: Sir, may I see you for a couple of minutes?

Answer: Certainly, what can I do for you?

Request: Officer, may we ask you a couple of questions?

Answer: Sure, what do you need to know?

Request: May I ask you a question, are you married or single?

Answer: No, it’s none of your business.

Note: we also use May when we request permission to do something.

May we come in?

Mommy, may I go to the bathroom?

Sir, may we leave the office a little early?

May I be excused from the meeting for a few minutes?