A friend of mine always texts me asking me to call him. While it's simple and informal to just text "can you call me?" or something similar, he insists on being fancy and texts "may you please call me?"
Is this use of the word may correct?

2 Answers 2


This is not a correct use of may.

May (like most of the modals) has two core senses:

  1. An epistemic sense, relating to possibility/probability. An epistemic interpretation of May you call me? would be something like "Is it possible that you will call me?"

  2. A deontic sense, relating to obligation. An epistemic interpretation of May you call me? would be something like "Are you permitted to call me?"

Neither of these senses fits well with please, which signals a request. May and please are used together to request your hearer to give you permission to do something:

May I call you?

But as FumbleFingers points out, that is rather stiff today; can is much more usual in conversation.

In contemporary English your friend can ask

Might you please call me?

Here the past-tense form of may expresses "modal remoteness"; in conjunction with please it suggests the speaker's reluctance to couch his request in the more demanding form of the imperative "Please call me". It has pretty much the same effect as your *Can you please call me?"

  • 1
    I agree that may is quite simply "incorrect" in OP's context. But I think even May I call you? (speaker asking addressee to grant permission for speaker to do something) would be seen as somewhat starchy / stilted / dated in most contexts today. Which is still okay in some contexts, but if you came out with May I be excused? (rather than, say, Will you excuse me?) when temporarily absenting yourself from the table at a dinner party, I reckon that could easily be taken as an exaggerated / "mock" formal usage. So probably learners would do better to avoid using it completely. Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 17:10
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, I agree. I've put that in. Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 17:15
  • I guess OP himself is aware of that "rather stiff" point, since he specifically says his friend insists on being "fancy" (and falls flat on his face, since what he supposes to be an "extremely correct" usage is in fact just plain wrong). Even native speakers can make mistakes of this type when they try to speak in a register they're not actually very familiar with - usually a bad idea, since it makes your poor command of English even more obvious to others! Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 17:41
  • "Would you please call me?" would be equally acceptable, would it not? As a side note, would you hit me if I tried to fit would into this comment a few more times? Would would would.
    – Holly
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 22:33
  • @HollyK 1) Oh, sure. 2) Certainly not. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 1:22

You can't say "may you please call me?".

May is only used to ask permission:

May I please call you?

Or you can use can to ask permission less formally:

Can I please call you?

Use can if you're asking if someone else will do something for you:

Can you please call me?


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