I am confused in which category to put this sentence.

It's a polite request, so it looks like it's an example of Imperative Sentence. But it does express the desire to have mango (even though not directly with the use of "I wish" or "I desire"), so feels like it may be Optative Sentence as well. And the listener of this sentence will most likely respond in "yes" or "no", that makes it a question.


2 Answers 2


This expression could be optative, and the use of an exclamation mark would support that interpretation. However, the sentence is not idiomatic for an optative sentence: it's idiomatically a question.

Optatives express a wish, usually that something happens. In the list on the linked page are expressions like "May the King live for ever!" That's optative.

To express a wish to have a mango, an idiomatic sentence would be something like "Oh, if only I could have a mango!" or "Oh, that he would give a mango" or "I wish I had a mango."

"May I have a mango!" is definitely not an idiomatic optative sentence and is likely to be misunderstood. It might be poetic, but even then something like "Would that I could have a mango!" is more idiomatic.

The sentence "May I have a mango" is far more likely to be understood as a question.

  • 4
    "May I have a mango!" is definitely not an idiomatic sentence The only issue is the terminal punctuation. In fact, I might even consider the sentence idiomatic with the exclamation mark if it were shouted. ("May I have a mango!" yelled the waiter to the chef over the din of the busy restaurant.) May 20 at 22:18
  • @MarcInManhattan I think this would be particularly true if a restaurant customer had ordered a mango from the waiter and some time has passed. (i.e.) It's a sarcastic way to say "Where is the mango that I ordered?". May 21 at 4:38
  • 1
    @MarcInManhattan You're not able to see my now-deleted answer, which does raise the possibility of "May I have a mango?!" that I think would be the right punctuation for your frustrated diner. However, I've clarified what I meant, too.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 21 at 8:56
  • Questions other than those of the rhetorical variety usually require and expect a verbal response. I'd class "May I have a mango, please?" , "May I have a mango, please.", "May I have a mango, please!" and "May I have a mango!" as requests getting less polite. The difficulty lies in deciding which are in interrogative form. I think the question mark decides this. May 21 at 15:51
  • Optatives are very rare in ordinary English, outside grammar books and very formal contexts such as state events, so I don't think most people would expect one or recognise one if you dropped it into dinner table conversation. This also suggests it's not an optative, or at least the OP doesn't mean to utter an optative.
    – Stuart F
    May 24 at 9:28

I don't think that a sentence with fronting modal verb can express an imperative.

The optative (i) expresses a vague wish without an agent: ‘Oh that I may have a mango’ and there is no inversion, and (ii) no answer is required or possible to the optative.

The interrogative has inversion and implies a distinct choice of answer; it ends with a question mark, even if spoken sternly so as to imply "Get me a mango!" If the exclamation mark is to be believed, then it is not interrogative.

The unmentioned "rhetorical" implies a particular answer and, depending on your view, perhaps requires no question mark:

Rabble-rouser at the hustings: "The king is starving us! May we have a pork chop?/! May we have a loaf of bread?/! May we have a mango?/! Are we to die without a fight?/!"

The answer to the question then becomes one of punctuation, context, and tone... the former is unexplained and neither of the latter is mentioned.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.