“Can I” or “May I”?

  • We use can and can’ to ask for, give and refuse permission.

For  example:

  1. Can I speak to Priya?
  2. Yes, you can borrow my books.
  3. you can’t take my new pen.

But, do we only use can for permissions?

No, we also use may to give/refuse and ask for permission. For example:

  1. May I use for phone?
  2. You may leave early today.
  3. No, you may not take a leave tomorrow.

I know what you’re thinking- If we use both these words, then what’s the difference?

Let’s learn the difference.

Difference between “Can I” and “May I”

  • May is more polite than can.

May I have a cup of coffee?

  • May is more formal than can.

May I speak to Mr. Sharma?

  • As may is more formal, we use it for official announcements.

Visitors may keep their belongings in the lockers available on rent.


Keep all these factors in mind before deciding which one to use, and you will never go wrong!

Also read: Can or Could versus May or Might