May vs. Will

'May' and 'will' are modal verbs that confuse learners because they both make offers. In this lesson, we will learn more about them.

"May" vs. "Will" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between modal verbs 'may' and 'will' is that 'will' talks about the future and 'may' talks about possibilities.

'May' is a modal verb that is used to talk about possibilities, permissions, express wishes, etc. 'May' is mainly used in formal contexts. Take a look at the following examples:

He may be upset with you.

They may join us for dinner.

'Will' is a modal verb that is mainly used to talk about the future. It is also used to predict and talk about habits. For example:

She will start working soon.

It will rain tomorrow.

Similarities

Making Offers

We use 'may' and 'will' to make offers. Offers are statements that show our willingness to do something for someone. Note that 'may' is followed by first-person singular or plural pronoun (I and we). We use 'may' to make polite and formal offers. For example:

May I take your coat?

I will take your coat, if you like.

With Conditionals

As shown in the table below, 'may' and 'will' are used as conditional verbs. conditionals are used to show that the occurrence of an event depends on another event or action to happen.

Conditional Type 1

'May' and 'will' are used in conditional type 1. In this type, we show a condition and the results that follow. These conditions are real situations with a high chance of occurrence. For example:

She will get sick if she stays out in the cold.

She may get sick if she stays out in the cold.

Negation and Question

Modal verbs are used to create negative or interrogative sentences. When creating negative sentences, we add 'not' to the modal verb as illustrated below:

  • MayMay notMayn't
  • WillWill notWon't

Here are some examples to illustrate the process of negation:

I may leave Colombia. → I may not leave Colombia.

I will let you borrow my car. → I won't let you borrow my car.

To create questions, we invert the modal verbs with subjects as illustrated below:

You will look after your sister. → Will you look after your sister?

He may leave next week. → May he leave next week?

With Other Modals

We use only one modal verb in a sentence. We cannot use modal verbs with other modal verbs. Take a look at these incorrect sentences:

I may can drive a truck.

I shall will reconsider my life choices.

Differences

Talking about Permission

We use 'may' to give and ask for permission. To ask for permission, we use 'I' or 'we' after 'may.' Take a look at the following dialogue for clarity:

A : May I join you?

B : You may.

Talking about Prediction

We use 'will' to talk about forecasts, possible future events, and predictions. For instance:

You will meet a new person.

It will be sunny all week.

Talking about Possibilities

'May' is also used to talk about present or future possibilities. For example:

It may rain in Spring.

She may join the Canadian Armed Forces.

Talking about Habits

We use 'will' to talk about routine actions that occur in the form of habits. For instance:

He will go for a walk as usual.

Our secretary will answer the calls.

Expressing Wishes

We use 'may' at the beginning of the sentence to express wishes, hopes, condolences, and prayers. For example:

May all your wishes come true.

May he rest in peace.

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