American English

Definition of may modal verb from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



     modal verb
    modal verb
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  1. 1used to say that something is possible That may or may not be true. He may have (= perhaps he has) missed his plane. They may well win. There are numerous programs on the market that may be described as design aids.
  2. 2used when admitting that something is true before introducing another point, argument, etc. He may be a good father but he's a terrible husband.
  3. 3(formal) used to ask for or give permission May I come in? You may come in if you wish. Which Word?can / may Can and cannot (or can’t) are the most common words used for asking for, giving, or refusing permission:Can I borrow your calculator? You can come with us if you want to. You can’t park your car there. May (negative may not) is used as a polite and fairly formal way to ask for or give permission:May I borrow your newspaper? You may come if you wish.It is often used in official signs and rules:Visitors may use the swimming pool between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Students may not use the college car park.The form mayn’t is hardly ever used in modern English.
  4. 4(formal) used as a polite way of making a comment, asking a question, etc. You look lovely, if I may say so. May I ask why you made that decision? If I may just add one thing…
  5. 5(formal) used to express wishes and hopes May she rest in peace. Business has been thriving in the past year.Long may it continue to do so.
  6. 6(formal) used to say what the purpose of something is There is a need for more resources so that all children may be entitled to a decent education. Grammarmodal verbsThe modal verbs are can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, and would. Dare, need, have to, and used to also share some of the features of modal verbs.Modal verbs have only one form. They have no past or present participles and do not add -s to the 3rd person singular form:He can speak three languages. She will try and visit tomorrow.Modal verbs are followed by the infinitive of another verb without to. The exceptions are ought to and used to:You must find a job. You ought to stop smoking. I used to smoke, but I quit two years ago.Questions are formed without do/does in the present or did in the past:Can I invite Mary? Should I have invited Mary?Negative sentences are formed with not or the short form -n’t and do not use do/does or did:You shouldn't invite Mary. The error will not have affected our results.You will find more help with how to use modal verbs at the dictionary entries for each verb.
  7. Idioms
    be that as it may (formal)
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    despite that synonym nevertheless I know that he tries hard; be that as it may, his work just isn't good enough.
See the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry: may