\ ˈmā How to pronounce may (audio) \
past might\ ˈmīt How to pronounce may (audio) \; present singular and plural may

Definition of may

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a used to indicate possibility or probability you may be rightthings you may need sometimes used interchangeably with can one of those slipups that may happen from time to time— Jessica Mitford sometimes used where might would be expected you may think from a little distance that the country was solid woods— Robert Frost
b : have permission to you may go now : be free to a rug on which children may sprawl— C. E. Silberman used nearly interchangeably with can
c archaic : have the ability to
2 used in auxiliary function expressing purpose or expectation I laugh that I may not weep or contingency she'll do her duty come what may or concession he may be slow but he is thorough or choice the angler may catch them with a dip net, or he may cast a large, bare treble hook— Nelson Bryant
3 used in auxiliary function to express a wish or desire especially in prayer, imprecation, or benediction may the best man win
4 : shall, must used in law where the sense, purpose, or policy requires this interpretation


noun (1)
\ ˈmā How to pronounce may (audio) \

Definition of may (Entry 2 of 3)

: maiden


noun (2)
\ ˈmā How to pronounce May (audio) \

Definition of May (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : the fifth month of the Gregorian calendar
2 often not capitalized : the early vigorous blooming part of human life : prime
3 : the festivities of May Day
4 not capitalized
a : green or flowering branches used for May Day decorations
b : a plant that yields may: such as
(1) : hawthorn
(2) : a spring-flowering spirea

Can vs. May: Usage Guide

Auxiliary verb

Can and may are most frequently interchangeable in uses denoting possibility; because the possibility of one's doing something may depend on another's acquiescence, they have also become interchangeable in the sense denoting permission. The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts. May is relatively rare in negative constructions (mayn't is not common); cannot and can't are usual in such contexts.

Examples of may in a Sentence

Noun (2) Shakespeare called it “the merry month of May.” The last two Mays have been cold and rainy.

First Known Use of may

Auxiliary verb

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1c

Noun (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for may

Auxiliary verb

Middle English (1st & 3rd singular present indicative), from Old English mæg; akin to Old High German mag (1st & 3rd singular present indicative) have power, am able (infinitive magan), and perhaps to Greek mēchos means, expedient

Noun (1)

Middle English, from Old English mǣg kinsman, kinswoman, maiden

Noun (2)

Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French mai, from Latin Maius, from Maia, Roman goddess

Learn More About may

Time Traveler for may

Time Traveler

The first known use of may was before the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near may

Maxwell triangle



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Cite this Entry

“May.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/may. Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for may


helping verb
\ ˈmā How to pronounce may (audio) \
past might\ ˈmīt \; present singular & plural may

Kids Definition of may

1 : have permission to You may go now.
2 : be in some degree likely to You may be right.
3 used to express a wish May the best man win.
4 used to express purpose We exercise so that we may be strong.


\ ˈmā How to pronounce May (audio) \

Kids Definition of May

: the fifth month of the year

May biographical name

\ ˈmā How to pronounce May (audio) \

Definition of May

Theresa (Mary) 1956–     née Theresa Mary Brasier British prime minister (2016–2019)

More from Merriam-Webster on may

Nglish: Translation of may for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of may for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about may


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