The English language verbs Can and May have similar meanings, but they are different, as I shall explain, using British English examples.
Can means "to be able to", the ability to do something.
"Can you swim underwater for 2 minutes?"
"I can speak French."
May means "to be allowed to", to be given permission.
"May I go to the party and come home at 1am?"
"She may go to the ball, but only after she has cleaned the kitchen."
In informal speech, you will often hear "can" used when actually "may" would be the grammatically correct word, for example:
"Can I go to the movies tonight, please?" The speaker is asking if they are allowed to go out, therefore "may" should be used. However to ask "May I go to the movies?" sounds quite formal or posh. It would be unusual to hear this in the majority of the British population.
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