may

may
1 modal verb negative short form mayn't old-fashioned BrE
1 POSSIBILITY if something may happen or may be true, there is a possibility that it will happen or be true but this is not certain: I may be late so start without me. | Who knows what will happen. You may even have married by then. | It is feared that many workers may lose their jobs this winter. | -50 may not be enough. | Ian may be able to help.
—compare might 1
2 PERMISSION may I
a) spoken used to ask politely if you can do something: May I speak to you for a moment in private, please? | I'd like to open a window, if I may.
b) formal used to say that someone is allowed to do something: Thank you, you may go now. | You may start writing now - the examination will finish in three hours. | Firearms may be used in an emergency.
c) may I say/ask/suggest etc formal used to say, ask, or suggest something politely: May I just add that Oliver was a pleasure to work with and will be missed by everyone in the team.
—compare can 1, might 1
3 may you/he/they etc do sth formal used to say that you hope that a particular thing will happen to someone: May both the bride and groom have long and happy lives.
4 may ... but ... used to say that although one thing is true, something else which seems very different is also true: He may be lazy, but he can work very hard when he feels like it. | You may think you're smart but you don't understand this kind of work at all.
—compare might 1
5 may well if something may well happen or may well be true, it is fairly likely to happen or be true: These are excellent photographs and we may well be able to use them in our magazine.
—compare might well might 1 (7)
6 may as well spoken used to say that you will do something that you do not really want to do, because you cannot think of anything better: I may as well go out tonight. There's nothing on television. | If you're not going to eat that pizza I may as well throw it out.
7 PURPOSE formal used like 'can' after 'so that', to say that someone does something in order to make something else possible: He gave up his life so that we may all live in a free and fair world.
—compare might 1
8 POSSIBLE TO DO STH if something may be done, completed etc in a particular way, that is how it is possible to do it: The problem may be solved in a number of ways, but there is only one correct answer.
—see can 1 2 noun (U) hawthorn flowers

Longman dictionary of contemporary English. 2004.

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