Key Difference – Shall vs May in English Grammar
Shall and May are two modal auxiliary verbs that show differences between them when it comes to their usage. In order to comprehend the difference between the two first let us pay attention to the situations in which these can be used. Shall is mainly used expressive of offers, suggestions, and requests. On the other hand, may is used to ask for permission. This is the main difference between the two words. Through this article let us comprehend the difference through examples.
What is Shall?
Shall is a modal auxiliary verb in the English language. These do not have to be conjugated in accordance to the subject of the sentence and remains the same, whether the subject is plural or not. As a matter of fact the verb ‘shall’ is used mainly in relation to the first person in future tense as in the following sentences:
- I shall write to him today.
- We shall go to the bank tomorrow.
In both the sentences the modal auxiliary verb ‘shall’ is used in relation to the first person singular and plural in future tense.
The verb ‘shall’ is also used expressive of offers, suggestions and requests as in the following sentences:
- Shall I water the plants in your house?
- Shall we go out for lunch?
In both the sentences given above you can see that the auxiliary verb ‘shall’ is used expressive of request and suggestion respectively. These are the functions of the verb shall. The verb may is quite different. Now let us pay attention to it.
What is May?
The verb ‘may’ is on the other hand used to ask for permission as in the sentence ‘May I switch on the lights?’ Here the verb ‘may’ is used to ask for permission. A clear difference between shall and may is that while shall is mostly used for requests and suggestions, the verb may is used when asking for permission.
‘May’ is sometimes used to give permission as in the sentence ‘Yes, you may go there tomorrow.’ Here ‘may’ is expressive of permission granted for the person to go to a place.
The verb ‘may’ is used expressive of possibility of a happening as in the sentence ‘We may go to Australia this summer’. Here ‘may’ is expressive of the possibility of visiting Australia sometime during the summer.
‘May’ is frequently used expressive of wishes to somebody to carry on good health and prosperity as in the sentences ‘May you live long’ and ‘May you be happy forever!’ In these sentences the usage of the auxiliary verb ‘may’ is suggestive of wishes to a person. Both the verbs ‘shall’ and ‘may’ should be used with precision.
What is the Difference Between Shall and May in English Grammar?
Definitions of Shall and May:
Shall: Shall is a modal auxiliary verb.
May: May is also a modal auxiliary verb.
Characteristics of Shall and May:
Shall: Shall is used when making requests and suggestions.
May: May is used when asking for permission and also granting permission.
Shall: Shall cannot be used when speaking of possibilities.
May: May can be used when speaking of possibilities.