Difference between Can and May

The words can and may are auxiliary verbs, which are often juxtaposed when we talk about possibility or permission. Can and may can both be used to ask for permission, although “may” is considered more formal. Basically, the word ‘can‘ is used when someone has the ability to do something, or when you are allowed to do something. “Can” first overlapped with the definition of “the ability to do something,” and later took the “permission” definition as well. On the other hand, may is used to discuss possibility or happenings in the future. It is also used when you want to take or give permission for doing something. Both can and may are used to seek or receive permission, however, May is more usual and formal. However, whether they are interchangeable or not depends on whether the context requires classic usage or modern speech.

Difference between Can and May


  • Can refers to the capability of someone in doing something.
  • The word ‘can’ means ‘be able to,’ it denotes the capability of a person.
  • Can is used to express ability and informally used to ask permission. It is also used for determining the possibility of something or informally ask for permission to do something.
  • The word ‘can’ is used to denote a person’s ability in doing something or talking about any kind of possibility.
  • In general, we use the word can for informally asking for something.
  • Examples: Team A can win this match. Can you speak clearly?


  • May is used in a sentence to reflect the possibility or permissibility of something.
  • In English, we use ‘may’ for expressing any kind of possibility, regarding happenings or events that may occur in the future.
  • May is used to expressing possibility or ask permission. It is also used to give and take permission to someone to do something.
  • The word ‘may’ is used to take or give permission to/from another person. Further, it is also used when there is a strong possibility of something.
  • In general, may is used for formally asking for or allowing something.
  • Examples: May I go outside? This may not be true.