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Modal verbs may be easy for native-speakers but for me (not native) choosing the right modal verb makes me crazy!

  1. My family {may/could} go camping this weekend, depending on the weather.

  2. You {may/could} fix the computer yourself if it's a simple problem.

  3. We {may/could} reach our house in an hour if we hurry up.

So, Which is correct? Why? And are these questions easy for you (native-speakers)? So tricky and confusing for me.

  • As a native speaker, I began typing an answer to your question. Then I consulted sources, like this one at the Cambridge dictionary and realized I wasn't quite right. These verbs do cover ability and permission, but when it comes to choice and requests, the rules get very tricky. In short, the rules for may, could, and can, sometimes get into shades of meaning, or degrees of possibility. Yes, they are tricky! – whiskeychief May 17 '19 at 10:16
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    I'd probably use might or may for 1, can or could for 2 and can, could, should, will, might or may for 3, depending on the nuance you want. For 1, you're saying there is a possibility you might go camping; it may be that that is what happens. If you used could, it's more like you're saying your family has the ability to go camping - it's a bit weaker, and doesn't really give an indication if you would or not. For 2, using "may" would make it sound like you're granting permission for someone to fix it. – Showsni May 17 '19 at 12:01
  • The answes are (1) may (2) could (3) could. – Dasik Jun 19 '19 at 5:55
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You'll be delighted to know that can or may (also will and shall) is difficult for many native speakers, and there is not universal agreement about correctness -- despite some strongly-held views -- and different groups of native speakers have different usage.

For a learner, follow the advice of Oxford Dictionaries:

In informal contexts it’s perfectly acceptable to use can; in formal situations it would be better to use may.

PS. There is even a professor of English called Dr Will May at the University of Southampton, but his specialty appears to be poetry rather than grammar.

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  1. My family may go camping this weekend, depending on the weather.
  2. You could fix the computer yourself if it's a simple problem.
  3. We could reach our house in an hour if we hurry up.
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    I think that depending on the context, either option could be used for all three sentences. If you would provide your reasoning that may could/may help the situation. – katatahito Jun 19 '19 at 5:05
  • I based this on "subject-verb agreement on modal auxiliaries". Kindly let me know if this is a mistake. 1. May go - weak possibility - formal statement 2. could fix - weak possibility - polite statement (non formal) 3. could reach - weak possibility - polite statement (non formal) – NCN Jun 19 '19 at 5:11
  • Your answers are all correct. The answes are (1) may (2) could (3) could. – Dasik Jun 19 '19 at 5:57

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