Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • auxiliary v. To be allowed or permitted to: May I take a swim? Yes, you may.
  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate a certain measure of likelihood or possibility: It may rain this afternoon.
  • auxiliary v. Used to express a desire or fervent wish: Long may he live!
  • auxiliary v. Used to express contingency, purpose, or result in clauses introduced by that or so that: expressing ideas so that the average person may understand.
  • auxiliary v. To be obliged; must. Used in statutes, deeds, and other legal documents. See Usage Note at can1.
  • n. Chiefly British The blossoms of the hawthorn.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The hawthorn bush or its blossoms.
  • v. To gather may.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A maiden.
  • n. The fifth month of the year, containing thirty-one days.
  • n. The early part or springtime of life.
  • n. The flowers of the hawthorn; -- so called from their time of blossoming; also, the hawthorn.
  • n. The merrymaking of May Day.
  • v. Ability, competency, or possibility; -- now oftener expressed by can.
  • v. Liberty; permission; allowance.
  • v. Contingency or liability; possibility or probability.
  • v. Modesty, courtesy, or concession, or a desire to soften a question or remark.
  • v. Desire or wish, as in prayer, imprecation, benediction, and the like.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • A. As an independent verb, or as a quasi-auxiliary: To have power; have ability; be able; can.
  • To indicate possibility with contingency.
  • In this sense, when a negative clause was followed by a contingent clause with if, may in the latter clause was formerly used elliptically, if I may meaning ‘if I can control it’ or ‘prevent it.’
  • Sometimes may is used merely to avoid a certain bluntness in putting a question, or to suggest doubt as to whether the person to whom the question is addressed will be able to answer it definitely.
  • The preterit might is similarly used, with some slight addition of contempt.
  • To indicate opportunity, moral power, or the absolute power residing in another agent.
  • In this sense may is scarcely used now in negative clauses, as permission refused amounts to an absolute prohibition, and accordingly removes all doubt or contingency.
  • To indicate desire, as in prayer, aspiration, imprecation, benediction, and the like. In this sense might is often used for a wish contrary to what can or must be: as, O that I might recall him from the grave !
  • In law, may in a statute is usually interpreted to mean must, when used not to confer a favor, but to impose a duty in the exercise of which the statute shows that the public or private persons are to be regarded as having an interest.
  • In conditional clauses. [Rare, except in clauses where permission is distinctly expressed.]
  • In concessive clauses.
  • In clauses expressing a purpose.
  • To celebrate May-day; take part in the festivities of Mayday: chiefly or only in the verbal noun maying and the derivative mayer: as, to go a maying.
  • n. A kinsman.
  • n. A person.
  • n. A maiden; a virgin.
  • n. The fifth month of the year, consisting of thirty-one days, reckoned on the continent of Europe and in America as the last month of spring, but in Great Britain commonly as the first of summer.
  • n. Figuratively, the early part or springtime of life.
  • n. [lowercase] The hawthorn: so called because it blooms in May. Also May-bush.
  • n. Some other plant, especially species of Spiræa: as, Italian may.
  • n. The festivities or games of May-day.
  • n. In Cambridge University, England, the Easter-term examination.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. thorny Eurasian shrub of small tree having dense clusters of white to scarlet flowers followed by deep red berries; established as an escape in eastern North America
  • n. the month following April and preceding June

Etymologies

Middle English, 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.
French mai, hawthorn, from Mai, May (so called because it blooms in May); see May.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old English magan, from Proto-Germanic *maganan, from Proto-Indo-European *magʰ, *megʰ. Cognate with Dutch mogen, Low German mægen, German mögen, Swedish , Icelandic mega, megum. See also might. (Wiktionary)
French mai, so called because it blossoms in May. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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