Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody. My name is Alisha. In this lesson, I'm going to talk about asking permission using "May I" and "Can I." Let's get started.
First, many people ask, "What is the difference between 'May I' and 'Can I?'" The simple answer is, when asking for permission, you want to do something, you ask to do that thing, when asking for permission in modern American English, there isn't a difference. Most people use them the same way. When people ask this question, "Should I use 'May I?' Should I use 'Can I?'" If you use one or the other, you will be understood. There won't be a communication problem. We use them the same way. Most people do. However, originally, "may" was used to ask permission. We use "may" to ask permission, originally, many, many years ago. That was the preferred word, the specific word, to ask for permission for something. "Can" was used to talk about our abilities, things we're able to do. Of course, we still use "can" to do this today. Sometimes, you may meet people who are very, very strict about this rule. They still want to use "may" for permission. Sometimes, for example, in school, if a student says, "Can I go to the bathroom?" A teacher who is very strict about this rule might say, "Do you mean, 'may I go to the bathroom?'" Sometimes, people are very strict about this, but I feel that this is decreasing a little bit. You might hear some teachers, some people who are strict about this rule make jokes like that. In general, as I said, most people do use them in the same way. We use them interchangeably. We use both to ask permission. Therefore, sentences like these, both of these are acceptable. "Can I use your computer?" In other words, "Is it okay if I use your computer?" "May I use your computer?" We would use both of these to ask for permission from somebody. "Can I use your computer?" in this case doesn't mean like "Do I have the ability to use your computer?" This is asking for permission for something.
Technically, if you want to be historical about it, yes, this one is the most correct, "May I use your computer?" That's true. However, in American English, "may I" tends to sound more formal these days. If you use "may" with your friends and your family, you might sound too polite. You might create distance between your friends and your family if you use "may" for everything, because "may" sounds polite, "may" sounds a bit more formal. This might be different in British English, but in American English, it tends to sound a little more polite.
We can also change this from "can I" or "may I" to, for example, "may we," like "May we borrow your car?" You're asking permission for more than one person, yourself and someone else. May we borrow your car? Or, "Can he come to the event?" In this case, you're asking permission for someone else to do something. May we/can he? This is a basic overview of the difference between them. There's one other thing I want to point out or mention. That is word order. This is something I see a lot of mistakes with. The word order problem is a confusion between where to put "can" or "may" in the sentence.
Let's look at two pairs of examples here. The first pair, the difference here. Let's read them first. "He can come to the party./?" I have a period here, or a question here, because intonation matters. First, "He can come to the party," as a statement. Or, "He can come to the party?" as a question. The other one in this pair is "Can he come to the party?" First thing to notice, in the first sentence, "he" is the beginning of the sentence. He can come to the party. In the second sentence, "can" begins the sentence. Can he come to the party? What is the difference here? This sentence, as a statement, "He can come to the party." It's not a question. "He can come to the party" is a simple confirmation. We are confirming. He can come to the party. It's a statement. There's not a request for permission there. However, if we use this upward question intonation, "He can come to the party?" you're confirming that. For example, you heard some information that you're surprised, "Oh, he can come to the party?" for example. You thought maybe that person couldn't come. This is either a simple confirmation statement, "He can come to the party," or a confirmation question, like "Did I hear that correctly, he can come to the party?" We're confirming something in this sentence with this grammar. In this sentence, however, "Can he come to the party?" This is a question that is asking permission. Can he come to the party? Please note, when you ask permission, your "can" or your "may," as we'll see later, this should be at the beginning of your sentence.
Let's move on now to this next pair. I've used "may" here, because "may" presents a different situation. This one, as I said, confirmation of attendance. However, "may" has a different meaning. When we use "may" in a different word order, we create a different meaning.
First, let's read the sentences. "He may come to the party." Second, "May he come to the party?" You can hear my intonation is different as well. He may come to the party. This is a statement, not a question. He may come to the party? This may be a question you would ask, but it's not so common. "May he come to the party?" is a clear question. What's the difference here? Here, we've used "may." In this use of "may," with this grammar, we've made a statement, actually. This is a simple statement like here. It's a statement, but the meaning here is that this man, he, he might attend. This use of "may" is not requesting permission. This is saying something is uncertain. The man might attend, but it's uncertain. He may come to the party. We don't know yet, he's deciding. In this sentence, however, "May he come to the party?" This is a polite way to ask permission for someone else to attend. May he come to the party? Probably, I would use "Can he come to the party?" because it sounds less formal. But, this is a polite way to ask permission for someone else to attend a party.
Please, keep in mind, when you want to make a request for permission, you're asking for permission, you need to include "can" or "may" at the beginning of the request. If you put it here, after your subject, "he can come" or "he may come," you might create some confusion. Please, please, please, make sure your request word, your "can" or your "may" is at the beginning of your sentence. That's a key point.
This is a quick overview, a quick introduction to some differences between "may" and "can," and "may I" and "can I" for asking for permission. I hope that that was helpful for you. If you have any questions or comments, or anything else that you think might be helpful with regard to this lesson, please let us know in the comment section of this video. Thanks very much for watching this lesson and we'll see you again soon. Bye-bye.

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Dragan Petroviฤ‡
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Video didn't work properly. Try to fix it. When I played video at 30% video stoped.

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Roger
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Totally understood ๐Ÿ˜Š

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Hi, i seem interesting your class, thank you for this information, it was more clear