Main definitions of may in English

: may1may2May3

may1

modal verb

  • 1Expressing possibility.

    ‘that may be true’
    ‘he may well win’
    • ‘Investigators said this weekend that those reports may prove to be a case of mistaken identity.’
    • ‘It may be argued that state and law are not identical, and there can be states without law.’
    • ‘If parents were to think about it, they may find it is their own identity they are protecting.’
    • ‘It may be difficult in such situations to identify the point in time when an arrest occurs.’
    • ‘It may be that their stories confirm the public's worst instincts about the music industry.’
    • ‘That may well be true of course, though few have ever stated it so bluntly.’
    • ‘This may well be true and look at the hatred that it has generated in most Western countries.’
    • ‘Attitudes are much more difficult to identify and may only be revealed in subtle ways.’
    • ‘Yet their life outside may be as scarring as adult prison if their identities are ever discovered.’
    • ‘That indeed may well be true but rather than finessing this issue it should surely be addressing it head on.’
    • ‘Information such as a watermark in the paper may help identify a place and date of production.’
    • ‘All of which was further confirmation that Scotland may just have a bit of a star in the making.’
    • ‘The two plays may differ in style but their concern is identical, just like the twins.’
    • ‘He confirmed that failure to do so may amount to a breach of election law.’
    • ‘We thought there may be traffic issues but we also identified various ways we could address them.’
    • ‘Part of this may be that the church is integral to national identity and tradition.’
    • ‘In answering these points it may be necessary to identify the object of the contract.’
    • ‘Many of your readers may disagree, but I feel many more will identify with my observations.’
    • ‘However, this may give an insight into how the legal position was identified.’
    • ‘Overlap of bone margins may indicate a dislocation, and a second view should confirm this.’
    1. 1.1 Used when admitting that something is so before making another, more important point.
      ‘they may have been old-fashioned but they were excellent teachers’
      • ‘The first duty of any working person is to their family, however important that job may be.’
      • ‘It may not have felt like it, and he may not have admitted to it, but Johnson was a pioneering force.’
      • ‘The Montgomery Bus Boycott may have been important but it hardly had media appeal.’
      • ‘You may have a dozen important things to tell him but the moment of his arrival is not the time.’
      • ‘She may not have admitted it out loud, but that didn't mean that she didn't know it was true.’
      • ‘I may have to admit that you will never be my lover, but you will always be my dearest friend.’
      • ‘It may be deeply important to some people but it is essentially a part of life, it doesn't govern our lives.’
      • ‘The letter of the law may be important, but it appears that the punctuation is not.’
      • ‘That may not seem important to you but without her I think we'd all only read mysteries.’
      • ‘They may not seem important at the time but, trust me, one day they could be more vital than a very vital thing indeed.’
      • ‘It may not be important, but maybe if I put it down on paper, it'll make more sense to me.’
  • 2Used to ask for or to give permission.

    ‘you may confirm my identity with your Case Officer, if you wish’
    ‘may I ask a few questions?’
    • ‘The club now says his identity may not be revealed until the end of the month, but insist the deal is still on.’
    • ‘Of course there is a right of appeal, which in some cases may not be exercised without prior permission.’
    • ‘None of the text or images from this site may be reproduced in whole or part without written permission.’
  • 3Expressing a wish or hope.

    ‘may she rest in peace’
    • ‘This time she will stay in north Derbyshire in the hope she may make contact.’
    • ‘Now he is hoping other fans may follow his lead by using their expertise to aid the cash-strapped club.’
    • ‘Enough interest was shown in this suggestion to give hope that it may be taken up.’
    • ‘He hopes she may be of some comfort to his sister, although he wonders whether he will ever see her smile again.’
    • ‘An epilogue hopes the play may at least have pleased female spectators by its depiction of a good woman.’
    • ‘I just hope that you may see why I believe what I do and why it makes sense to me.’
    • ‘We also know the direction in which the gunman went and we are hoping this may lead us to new witnesses.’
    • ‘Her husband paid tribute to her as a loving family woman and hopes she may rest in the peace of God.’
    • ‘We are writing this because we hope other campaigns may benefit from some of the lessons that we learned.’
    • ‘For the moment it will have to be a honeymoon in hospital, but nurses hope that Linda may be able to go home.’
    • ‘It is hoped the British submersible may be able to cut the submarine loose once raised to a suitable depth.’
    • ‘It is hoped that a climbing club may be able to use the wall in the future.’
    • ‘It was a beautiful starlit night and William hoped it may the start of a new life for them both.’
    • ‘Nevertheless, he hopes he may only be a further week away from a return to action.’
    • ‘I am writing in the hope you may be able to help me with family history research.’

Usage

Traditionalists insist that one should distinguish between may (present tense) and might (past tense) in expressing possibility: I may have some dessert if I'm still hungry; she might have known her killer. However, this distinction is rarely observed today, and may and might are generally acceptable in either case: she may have visited yesterday; I might go and have a cup of tea. On the difference in use between may and can, see can

Phrases

  • be that as it may

    • Despite that; nevertheless.

      • ‘It's really difficult, but be that as it may, we are able to get by with the first ship last week, and hopefully we can get that cargo out of the transit sheds and off the docks and to the market.’
      • ‘But be that as it may, we'd no notion of bringing trouble like this down on your house.’
      • ‘Anyway, be that as it may, I thought he was the most talented man on Earth.’
      • ‘But be that as it may, that's not the important issue.’
      • ‘But be that as it may, they ought to be thankful they can hold those positions into the new year.’
      • ‘Well, anyway, be that as it may, we have to wrap up here.’
      • ‘But be that as it may, it happened and it's yesterday's affair.’
      • ‘But, be that as it may, let me offer my simple explanation.’
      • ‘But, be that as it may, he was bugging her, and she told him to go shove it.’
      • ‘But be that as it may, if you can get instructions from someone when they are capable, that's sufficient, irrespective of whether the next day they become incapable.’
      in spite of everything, in spite of that, nonetheless, even so, however, but, still, yet, though, be that as it may, for all that, despite everything, despite that, after everything, having said that, that said, just the same, all the same, at the same time, in any event, come what may, at any rate, notwithstanding, regardless, anyway, anyhow
      View synonyms
  • may as well

    • 1Used to make an unenthusiastic suggestion.

      ‘I may as well admit that I always underestimated John’
    • 2Used to indicate that a situation is the same as if the hypothetical thing stated were true.

      ‘the road was open again, but may as well have remained closed, such were the delays’
  • that is as may be

    • That may or may not be so (implying that this is not a significant consideration).

Origin

Old English mæg, of Germanic origin, from a base meaning ‘have power’; related to Dutch mogen and German mögen, also to main and might.

Pronunciation

may

/meɪ/

Main definitions of may in English

: may1may2May3

may2

noun

mass noun
  • The hawthorn or its blossom.

Origin

Late Middle English: from May.

Pronunciation

may

/meɪ/

Main definitions of may in English

: may1may2May3

May3

noun

  • 1The fifth month of the year, in the northern hemisphere usually considered the last month of spring.

    ‘the new model makes its showroom debut in May’
    ‘the full system was deployed last May’
    • ‘Tour operators with summer programmes always struggle to fill the months of May and June.’
    • ‘With the May elections looming, the last thing it wanted was to impose a big tax increase.’
    • ‘Bank holidays are a real menace for messing up the meat trade and the May weekend has been no exception.’
    • ‘In May last year the accident-prone pony got stuck in the water before being bailed out.’
    • ‘She was going to jump off the rock into the cold May water and drown just like he did.’
    • ‘The second week of May will be one of the driest of the year and one of the sunniest.’
    • ‘They flower from March to June and disperse mature seeds from May to July in the second year.’
    • ‘It was the month of May and in those times there was a corncrake in every field and garden.’
    • ‘The large number of bills included mean that if there is a May election most are unlikely to become law.’
    • ‘Culture vultures are invited to work with local artists for a unique May celebration.’
    • ‘I find that the coverage of recent events comes on the heels of the May ratings sweeps.’
    • ‘These flower from early to late May with single blooms that are finely fringed at the edges.’
    • ‘I feel the month of May is the most delightful time to be out and about on the river.’
    • ‘Most of the events are free, but because of limited space the May events are ticket only.’
    • ‘The May half-term is a chance to get children out of the house and into the fresh air.’
    • ‘It is going to give us a good starting point for the month of May but we still have a lot of work to do as does everyone else.’
    • ‘Dormant dahlia tubers can be potted up this month to get them going before planting out in May or June.’
    • ‘The rains in April and May of that year of 1951 were not too heavy and we were able to get out a bit.’
    • ‘It is now May, when spring is at its peak and hormones seem to have risen to a new level.’
    • ‘I was reminded of that when I turned the corner of the house this bright May morning.’
    1. 1.1one's Mayliterary One's bloom or prime.
      ‘others murmured that their May was passing’

Origin

Late Old English, from Old French mai, from Latin Maius (mensis) ‘(month) of the goddess Maia’.

Pronunciation

May

/meɪ/