In formal speech and writing, "can" implies ability to do something. Example: I can throw a ball. "May" implies a need for permission. Example: May I throw a ball? In informal speech and writing, "can" is now acceptable in the sense of "may." Example: Can I leave now? At the formal level the distinction between "can" and "may" is still observed.
Practice What You've Learned
Click to select the correct word usage in the following sentences. All answers in this exercise are based on the formal use of can and may.
(Can) (May) I go to the dance?
I (may) (can) ride a bike.
Your parents said, "You (may) (can) go to the dance."
When I have the ability and desire to accomplish something, I (may) (can) do it.
I (may) (can) juggle three items as once.
Bob, (may) (can) you go to the dance?
You (may) (can) climb that tree if you can.
Bill, you (may) (can) use the car tonight.
(May) (Can) I leave the room?
I (may) (can) do as I please.
You (may) (can) leave as soon as you finish your test.
You (may) (can) play with us if you know how to play.
(May) (Can) you accomplish that task?
My parents said that I (may) (can) go on the trip.
Since I have the money for the trip, I (may) (can) go.
I (may) (can) ride a horse.
You (may) (can) attend if you have your parents' permission.
Having the ability to do a task means I (may) (can) do that task.
Needing permission to do a task means I (may) (can) do that task.