I learned that 'modal'verbs can be contained in one sentence only once. But when I should express two auxiliary verbs in one sentence like 'You can may get this money.', How can we express the same meaning with one modal verb?

  • 3
    Do you mean something like "You may be able to get this money"? "Be able to" means the same thing as "can" in many contexts, but is not a modal verb.
    – MorganFR
    Dec 13, 2016 at 14:12
  • What @MorganFR said. You could also combine the two concepts of ability and possibility with something like You can perhaps get it (or more colloquially, You can/could maybe get it). Dec 13, 2016 at 14:29
  • You could also separate one into a subordinate clause: "If he can find his wallet, he may pay the bill" or "He may pay the bill if he can find his wallet"
    – Kys
    Dec 13, 2016 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


you can do something = you have the ability to do it

you may do something = you have license, permission, or freedom to do it

This would not make good sense:

You have the ability to have the freedom to do something.

Having no restrictions imposed on you is not an ability of yours. It is a condition external to you.

When the traffic light turns green, you may cross the street.

If you are able to walk, you can walk across the street.

  • If you are crippled, you may be able to cross the street before the red light. May can convey "possibility", not just permission.
    – MorganFR
    Dec 13, 2016 at 14:46
  • @MorganFR you added 'be able to', i think this adds the 'possibility'. Consider: May I swim across the lake? Yes, you may - I allow you too. Yes, you may be able too - sounds odd. Dec 13, 2016 at 16:01
  • Yes of course @SovereignSun, but that was the whole point of the OP's question as far as I know.
    – MorganFR
    Dec 13, 2016 at 16:22
  • @MorganFR: True, maybe you can cross the street safely if there's a gap in the traffic, even if you don't have a green light. You may|might be able to do it.
    – TimR
    Dec 13, 2016 at 18:34

You can may get this money.

The sentence is ungrammatical; you don't use two modal auxiliaries together in front of a verb. You should use either can or may.

You can get this money = You are able to get this money. It may mean "You are allowed to get this money".

You may get this money = It is possible for you to get this money. It may mean "You are allowed to get this money".

However, "can" is more commonly used than "may" for giving permission.


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