Let's say I want to write a news article about a chemical company that plans to build a new plant in Uzbekistan. Which modal verb should I use in the headline - could or may?

Chemical Company may build a plant in Uzbekistan

Chemical Company could build a plant in Uzbekistan

I googled for differences between "may" and "could" and found this:

The difference between I could go the cinema and I might/may go to the cinema is that the former is associated with reasoning about conditions or alternatives, whereas the latter is just a statement of possibility. The former statement informs us about a decision-making process going on inside the speaker, whereas the latter statement informs us that it is possible that the speaker will later be found at the cinema.

Does this mean that may would be more appropriate in my headline?

If I use could, would that imply that the company's decision to build the plant is conditional (that is, it depends on whether a condition or a set of conditions prove favorable to the plan)? That the company may be looking at some alternative plans, e.g. for building a plant in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan?

  • 1
    I don't think you'd find could in many newspaper headlines. At the could stage, it's not news yet :) If they're actively considering building the plant in a particular location, may or might is how I'd say it. Once the decision is made, "ChemCo to build plant in ...."
    – TimR
    Feb 7, 2017 at 11:30

1 Answer 1


Check dictionary.com for different uses of "may" http://www.dictionary.com/browse/may?s=t

and "could" http://www.dictionary.com/browse/could?s=t

I believe that will give you a better idea of how you should use these verbs. Since you say that the company "plans to build a new plant in Uzbekistan", I'd use "may", instead of "could". "May" implies possibility and/or opportunity, while "could" implies "conditional possibility", so your guess is correct. I hope this helps.

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