The librarian said: The students may not borrow more than 3 books in one month.

So, Is there a possibility for students to borrow 4 books per month? and why?

  • 1
    tl;dr in this particular context, you may = you have the permission to, you may not = you do NOT have the permission to - so, using simple logic: negating an explicit permission for things you need permission to do means that you can't do them.
    – user21321
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:53

2 Answers 2


While one meaning of "may" is "be in some degree likely to", in this case the meaning is probably "have permission to". Assuming the latter definition, the statement means that students are not allowed to borrow more than three books in one month.

  • I would agree on the second one, since this reads like a library rule for the students.
    – user3169
    Jan 29, 2017 at 22:03
  • 1
    Not always: "I may not get there with you." – Martin Luther King, Jr. Jan 29, 2017 at 22:46
  • 4
    LIke most modals, "may" can have two different readings, an epistemic ("it is possible that") and a deontic ("It is permitted that"). In most cases it is clear which is intended, but "may not" is sometimes genuinely ambiguous.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 30, 2017 at 0:13
  • @AndySchweig thank you, is the same apply on "I may not sleep till 6 PM today"
    – Shannak
    Jan 30, 2017 at 6:57
  • @JörgWMittag: That may not be true. Jan 30, 2017 at 10:12

May and might are special words which depict both epistemic or deontic modality.

The usage of 'may' as an order is archaic and not commonly used except by royalty. 'May this be done.' is a complete sentence and an example of Imperative mood, but not used often in everyday language.

For more information of other possible usages, there is a good discussion in wikipedia of usages of May and Might.

  • Could the downvoter please explain ? Jan 30, 2017 at 9:24

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