definition of may by The Free Dictionary




1. The fifth month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. See Table at calendar.

2. The springtime of life; youth.

3. The celebration of May Day.

[Middle English, from Old French mai, May, and Latin Māius (mēnsis), (the month) of Maia (Old French, from Latin), from Māia, an Italic goddess; see meg- in Indo-European roots.]

may 1


aux.v. Past tense might (mīt)

1. To be allowed or permitted to: May I take a swim? Yes, you may.

2. Used to express possibility or probability: It may rain this afternoon. See Usage Note at might2.

3. Used to express a desire or fervent wish: Long may he live!

4. Used to express contingency, purpose, or result in clauses introduced by that or so that: expressing ideas so that the average person may understand.

5. To be obliged, as where rules of construction or legal doctrine call for a specified interpretation of a word used in a law or legal document. See Usage Note at can1.

[Middle English mai, am able, is able ( first and third person sing. of mowe, to be able), from Old English mæg, first and third person sing. of magan, to be strong, be able; see magh- in Indo-European roots.]

may 2


n. Chiefly British

A hawthorn or its blossoms.

[French mai, hawthorn, from Mai, May (so called because it blooms in May); see May.]

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.



vb, past might

1. to indicate that permission is requested by or granted to someone: he may go to the park tomorrow if he behaves himself.

2. (often foll by well) to indicate possibility: the rope may break; he may well be a spy.

3. to indicate ability or capacity, esp in questions: may I help you?.

4. to express a strong wish: long may she reign.

5. to indicate result or purpose: used only in clauses introduced by that or so that: he writes so that the average reader may understand.

6. another word for might1

7. to express courtesy in a question: whose child may this little girl be?.

8. be that as it may in spite of that: a sentence connector conceding the possible truth of a previous statement and introducing an adversative clause: be that as it may, I still think he should come.

9. come what may whatever happens

10. that’s as may be (foll by a clause introduced by but) that may be so

[Old English mæg, from magan: compare Old High German mag, Old Norse ]

Usage: It was formerly considered correct to use may rather than can when referring to permission as in: you may use the laboratory for your experiments, but this use of may is now almost entirely restricted to polite questions such as: may I open the window? The use of may with if in constructions such as: your analysis may have been more credible if … is generally regarded as incorrect, might being preferred: your analysis might have been more credible if



[Old English mæg; related to Old High German māg kinsman, Old Norse māgr a relative by marriage]




1. (Plants) Also: may tree a Brit name for hawthorn

[C16: from the month of May, when it flowers]




the fifth month of the year, consisting of 31 days

[from Old French, from Latin Maius, probably from Maia, Roman goddess, identified with the Greek goddess Maia]




(Biography) Robert McCredie, Baron. born 1936, Australian biologist and ecologist

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014



auxiliary v., pres. may;

1. (used to express possibility): It may rain. You may have been right.

2. (used to express opportunity or permission): You may enter.

3. (used to express contingency, esp. in clauses indicating condition, concession, purpose, result, etc.): strange as it may seem; Let us concur so that we may live in peace.

4. (used to express wish or prayer): Long may you live!

5. Archaic. (used to express ability or power.)


be that as it may, whether or not that is true.

[before 900; Middle English mai 1st and 3rd pers. singular present indic. of mouen, Old English mæg (infinitive magan), c. Old Frisian mei, Old Saxon, Old High German, Gothic mag, Old Norse mā; compare main, might2]




1. the fifth month of the year, containing 31 days.

2. (often l.c.) the early flourishing part of life; prime.

3. the festive activities of May Day.


4. (l.c.) to gather flowers in May.

[before 1050; Middle English, Old English Maius < Latin, short for Māius mēnsis]




Cape, a cape at the SE tip of New Jersey, on Delaware Bay.

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


– may

Might and may are used mainly to talk about possibility. They can also be used to make a request, to ask permission, or to make a suggestion. When might and may are used with the same meaning, may is more formal than might. Might and may are called modals.

In conversation, the negative form mightn’t is often used instead of ‘might not’. The form mayn’t is much less common. People usually use the full form may not.

He mightn’t have time to see you.

It may not be as hard as you think.

1. possibility: the present and the future

You can use might or may to say that it is possible that something is true or that something will happen in the future.

I might see you at the party.

This may be why she enjoys her work.

You can use could in a similar way, but only in positive sentences.

Don’t eat it. It could be poisonous.

You can use might well or may well to show that it is fairly likely that something is true.

You might well be right.

I think that may well be the last time we see him.

You use might not or may not to say that it is possible that something is not true.

He might not like spicy food.

That may not be the reason she left.

Be Careful!
Don’t use ‘might not’ or ‘may not’ to say that it is impossible that something is true. Instead you use could not, cannot, or can’t.

She could not have known what happened unless she was there.

He cannot be younger than me.

You can’t talk to the dead.

Be Careful!
Don’t use ‘may’ when you are asking if something is possible. Don’t say, for example, ‘May he be right?‘ Say ‘Might he be right?’ or, more usually, ‘Could he be right?’

Might we have got the date wrong?

Could this be true?

Be Careful!
Don’t say ‘What may happen?‘ You usually say ‘What is likely to happen?’

What are likely to be the effects of these changes?

2. possibility: the past

You use might or may with have to say that it is possible that something happened in the past, but you do not know whether it happened or not.

Jorge didn’t play well. He might have been feeling tired.

I may have been a little unfair to you.

Could have can be used in a similar way.

It could have been one of the staff that stole the money.

Be Careful!
However, if something did not happen and you want to say that there was a possibility of it happening, you can only use might have or could have. Don’t use ‘may have’. For example, you say ‘If he hadn’t fallen, he might have won the race’. Don’t say ‘If he hadn’t hurt his ankle, he may have won the race‘.

A lot of men died who might have been saved.

You use might not or may not with have to say that it is possible that something did not happen or was not true.

They might not have got your message.

Her parents may not have realized what she was doing.

Be Careful!
Don’t use ‘might not have’ or ‘may not have’ to say that it is impossible that something happened or was true. Instead you use could not have or, in British English, cannot have.

They could not have guessed what was going to happen.

The measurement can’t have been wrong.

3. requests and permission

In formal English, may and might are sometimes used for making a request, or asking or giving permission.

Might I ask a question?

You may leave the table.

4. suggestions

Might is often used in polite suggestions.

You might like to read this and see what you think.

I think it might be better to switch off your phones.

Collins COBUILD English Usage © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 2004, 2011, 2012

Leave a Comment