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Should I use can or may in the following sentence: "For more information on how you can help with wreath sponsorship..." ?

marked as duplicate by Sven Yargs, AmE speaker, Nigel J, Skooba, Xanne Oct 31 '17 at 6:07

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  • 2
    You can use either. You may use either. Which you use depends on what you want to say. Do you want to stress ability or permission? – Andrew Leach Oct 26 '17 at 16:07
  • 1
    I would use can here, because I am referring to their ability to help us, not how we deign to allow them to help us. :) – Jim MacKenzie Oct 26 '17 at 17:58

One of my old instructors used to tease us about this. A student would ask:

"Can I go to the bathroom?"

To which he would respond:

"I don't know, can you?"

So while you certainly may use "can" in that context, the term concerns ability (or capacity) more than it does permission.

"May I go to the bathroom?"

Would be deemed the technically "proper" form of the question.

But again, as others in the comments note, it's not a significant difference. Both are used interchangeably in modern speech.

  • In your example, what follows may explain how you are both able and permitted to help. So either word is grammatically correct, but they differ somewhat in meaning. In your original example, I suspect that what is important is to explain the various ways that a person is able to help, and so I would prefer "can.. In the example given by Aleksandr, the capacity to go to the bathroom would seldom be in question, but, if the question pertains to permission to go, that deserves "may." Modern American speech often ignores these useful distinctions, but they are usually observed In careful writing. – Jeff Morrow Oct 26 '17 at 18:05
  • @JeffMorrow make this an answer... – MAA Oct 26 '17 at 19:02

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