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The modal may is used to express two things: politeness and possibility.

In terms of possibility, it can replace might, though might is more commonly used than may in this context.

More often, school children learn that may is used for good manners. For example, rather than using the modal can when asking for something, use may:

  • May I have another cookie please?
  • May I go to the bathroom? (A child asking at school.)
  • May I leave the table?
  • May I? (Said simply when it is obvious what the question is, for example, when you’re indicating that you’d like to offer your help.)
  • How may I help you? (If you’re a shop assistant speaking to a customer.)

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