“Can” and “may” both ask or give permission
Common usage and time have been known to change languages. While “may” may seem more formal for permission, “can” and “may” have become interchangeable for that use. “May” may be more indicative of possibility. In either case, both of these are used with another verb following to complete the request.
Using “may” or “can” for permission is a good way for the writer to show the formality or informality of a character in conversation.
“Can” also refers to ability.
“Can” still does imply the ability to do something.
“Can” also refers to putting food into a metal or glass contain in such as way as to preserve it. This use adds an “s” for the third-person singular (“he/she/it”).
Sidenote: In the present tense for permission or abiity, neither “can” nor “may” adds an “s” to the “he/she/it” (third person singular) form.
- A fun childhood game called, “Mother, May I” required the “children” to ask permission of the “mother.”
- (The use of “may” in this game is an indication of its age, where “may” asks permission. The “children” add the verb of the request.)
- If they have it fixed by then, the plane may take off at nine. Can they have it ready?
- (“may” = possibility, “can” = ability)
- After recovering from his accident, can he win the race?
- (“can” = ability)
- When may/can we leave?
- (either verb for asking permission)