Understand (may not): The students may not borrow more than 3 books in one month


The librarian said: The students may not borrow more than 3 books in one month.

So, Is there a possibility for students to borrow 4 books per month? and why?


Posted 2017-01-29T20:16:50.460

Reputation: 4 372

1tl;dr in this particular context, you may = you have the permission to, you may not = you do NOT have the permission to - so, using simple logic: negating an explicit permission for things you need permission to do means that you can't do them. – None – 2017-01-29T22:53:34.897



While one meaning of "may" is "be in some degree likely to", in this case the meaning is probably "have permission to". Assuming the latter definition, the statement means that students are not allowed to borrow more than three books in one month.

Andy Schweig

Posted 2017-01-29T20:16:50.460

Reputation: 1 165

I would agree on the second one, since this reads like a library rule for the students. – user3169 – 2017-01-29T22:03:10.197

1Not always: "I may not get there with you." – Martin Luther King, Jr. – Andy Schweig – 2017-01-29T22:46:56.390

4LIke most modals, "may" can have two different readings, an epistemic ("it is possible that") and a deontic ("It is permitted that"). In most cases it is clear which is intended, but "may not" is sometimes genuinely ambiguous. – Colin Fine – 2017-01-30T00:13:11.940

@AndySchweig thank you, is the same apply on "I may not sleep till 6 PM today" – Shannak – 2017-01-30T06:57:01.523

@JörgWMittag: That may not be true. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2017-01-30T10:12:50.610

@LightnessRacesinOrbit: facepalm. – Jörg W Mittag – 2017-01-30T10:37:16.750

@Shannak I'd say the meaning of that is ambiguous (it could mean "I'm not allowed to sleep till 6PM today", or "It's possible I won't sleep till 6PM today"). I'd probably interpret it as the latter if I just heard it with no context (since, in my experience at least, it's less common to use "may" when you're talking about things you yourself are allowed/forbidden to do), but the former meaning is possible too. To be clear on that last point, to say "I may not do that" would be quite unusual, but "I'm not allowed to do that" (or just "I can't do that") is much more common. – Muzer – 2017-01-30T11:08:20.823


May and might are special words which depict both epistemic or deontic modality.

The usage of 'may' as an order is archaic and not commonly used except by royalty. 'May this be done.' is a complete sentence and an example of Imperative mood, but not used often in everyday language.

For more information of other possible usages, there is a good discussion in wikipedia of usages of May and Might.


Posted 2017-01-29T20:16:50.460

Reputation: 129

Could the downvoter please explain ? – user1952500 – 2017-01-30T09:24:23.677