0

'You can borrow my car if you like' is a more gracious offer than 'You may borrow it'; the first presumes the granting of permission, while the second makes a point of it.

CONTEXT (I find the conclusive clause contradictory though)

"The heightened formality of may sometimes highlights the speaker's role in giving permission. You may leave the room when you are finished implies that permission is given by the speaker. You can leave the room when you are finished implies that permission is part of a rule or policy rather than a decision on the speaker's part.

For this reason, may sees considerable use in official announcements: Students may pick up the application forms tomorrow

What does "make a point of it" exactly mean here?

6
  • It simply states neutrally that permission is granted, without any other polite contations.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 12:08
  • @fev its context goes on saying "Students can take no more than three courses allows the possibility that a student who is unusually capable may take more, whereas Students may take no more than three courses does not."
    – GJC
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 12:39
  • Yes, so? I don't understand your point.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 12:53
  • English-speaking children are often corrected by their parents not to say, "Can I have a cookie?" but to say, "May I have a cookie?" The first one is a demand (assuming permission and only asking whether a cookie exists) whereas the second one is a polite petition seeking permission. Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 13:20
  • @CanadianYankee Generations of grammarians and schoolteachers have insisted that can should be used only to express the capacity to do something, and that may must be used to express permission odict.net/can
    – GJC
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 13:55

1 Answer 1

1

The "it" in "makes a point of it" refers to the granting of permission earlier in the sentence. The contrast being made, therefore, is between the presumption that permission has been granted (i.e. "You can borrow..." assumes permission has been granted) versus the emphasis on permission being granted (i.e., "You may borrow..." means permission is now granted).

3
  • Generations of grammarians and schoolteachers have insisted that can should be used only to express the capacity to do something, and that may must be used to express permission odict.net/can
    – GJC
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 13:55
  • 1
    Please understand, @GJC, that I was interpreting the meaning of the sentence in OP's question, not advocating for its veracity.
    – RobJarvis
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 13:58
  • I find the conclusive clause contradictory though: "The heightened formality of may sometimes highlights the speaker's role in giving permission. You may leave the room when you are finished implies that permission is given by the speaker. You can leave the room when you are finished implies that permission is part of a rule or policy rather than a decision on the speaker's part. For this reason, may sees considerable use in official announcements: Students may pick up the application forms tomorrow ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=can
    – GJC
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 14:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .