from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A hawthorn or its blossoms.
  • auxiliary verb To be allowed or permitted to.
  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate a certain measure of likelihood or possibility.
  • auxiliary verb Used to express a desire or fervent wish.
  • auxiliary verb Used to express contingency, purpose, or result in clauses introduced by that or so that.
  • auxiliary verb 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.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A maiden; a virgin.
  • 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.
  • noun A kinsman.
  • noun A person.
  • noun 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.
  • noun Figuratively, the early part or springtime of life.
  • noun [lowercase] The hawthorn: so called because it blooms in May. Also May-bush.
  • noun Some other plant, especially species of Spiræa: as, Italian may.
  • noun The festivities or games of May-day.
  • noun In Cambridge University, England, the Easter-term examination.
  • 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.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • verb Ability, competency, or possibility; -- now oftener expressed by can.
  • verb Liberty; permission; allowance.
  • verb Contingency or liability; possibility or probability.
  • verb Modesty, courtesy, or concession, or a desire to soften a question or remark.
  • verb Desire or wish, as in prayer, imprecation, benediction, and the like.
  • verb are used as equivalent to possibly, perhaps, maybe, by chance, peradventure. See 1st Maybe.
  • noun The fifth month of the year, containing thirty-one days.
  • noun The early part or springtime of life.
  • noun (Bot.) The flowers of the hawthorn; -- so called from their time of blossoming; also, the hawthorn.
  • noun The merrymaking of May Day.
  • noun (Bot.) a shrubby species of Spiræa (Spiræa hypericifolia) with many clusters of small white flowers along the slender branches.
  • noun (Bot.) the fruit of an American plant (Podophyllum peltatum). Also, the plant itself (popularly called mandrake), which has two lobed leaves, and bears a single egg-shaped fruit at the forking. The root and leaves, used in medicine, are powerfully drastic.
  • noun (Zoöl.) any one of numerous species of large lamellicorn beetles that appear in the winged state in May. They belong to Melolontha, and allied genera. Called also June beetle.
  • noun the first day of May; -- celebrated in the rustic parts of England by the crowning of a May queen with a garland, and by dancing about a May pole.
  • noun the morning dew of the first day of May, to which magical properties were attributed.
  • noun (Bot.) a plant that flowers in May; also, its blossom. See Mayflower, in the vocabulary.
  • noun (Zoöl.) any species of Ephemera, and allied genera; -- so called because the mature flies of many species appear in May. See Ephemeral fly, under Ephemeral.
  • noun any May-day sport.
  • noun the queen or lady of May, in old May games.
  • noun (Bot.) the lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis).


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

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

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

[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.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

French mai, so called because it blossoms in May.


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word may.


  • Unless there are any other myths I can dispel, lemme sign off with the reminder that while the feds and/or the state may *may* end up kicking in a share via the enterprise or empowerment zones, the beneficiaries of this deal will not only be these poverty-wage workers, but all of Los Angeles, as lowered poverty brings lowered crime, safer communities, stronger families, less drug use, fewer public health expenditures and more effective schools.

    Guess Who's Paying For The Pay Raise At Airport Hotels? 2007

  • While it may provide some immediate easing of the pain and that's a big *may* this is only delaying the inevitable.

    11/11/2007 2007

  • I think WoW's a hot virus -- it'll burn fast and two years from now WoW may be a ghost town *may* be

    The future of VWs over a quarter 2006

  • I think WoW's a hot virus -- it'll burn fast and two years from now WoW may be a ghost town *may* be.

    The future of VWs over a quarter 2006

  • Citizens who grew up East of the Tower of London may only *may* - not necessarily have an East End accent, regardless of whether they live north or south of the River Thames. BBC VOICES. 2005

  • -- The Potential Subjunctive may designate _a mere possibility_ (English auxiliary _may_).

    New Latin Grammar Charles E. Bennett

  • Of course it may be intended as compliment-terry; it _may_ mean "always entertaining and ever reddy."

    Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 100, April 11, 1891 Various

  • By the by, Mary, you may just mention to your mistress that I _may_ perhaps be detained rather later than usual to-day, and she is not to wait dinner for me. '

    The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No 3, September 1864 Devoted To Literature And National Policy Various

  • I get a letter to say that the Rifle Brigade may leave for France at any time, and that Donald _may_ get some "leave" on Saturday or

    A Student in Arms Second Series Donald Hankey

  • Compounds of more than two words may be analyzed thus: +May have been written+ is composed of the compound auxiliary +may have been+ and the participle +written; may have been+ is composed of the compound auxiliary

    Higher Lessons in English A work on english grammar and composition Brainerd Kellogg


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