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?

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    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 '17 at 22:53

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.

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  • I would agree on the second one, since this reads like a library rule for the students. – user3169 Jan 29 '17 at 22:03
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    Not always: "I may not get there with you." – Martin Luther King, Jr. – Andy Schweig Jan 29 '17 at 22:46
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    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 '17 at 0:13
  • @AndySchweig thank you, is the same apply on "I may not sleep till 6 PM today" – Shannak Jan 30 '17 at 6:57
  • @JörgWMittag: That may not be true. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 30 '17 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.

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  • Could the downvoter please explain ? – user1952500 Jan 30 '17 at 9:24

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