Could vs May

Type your word here
Try:

What’s the difference between them?

Could

Meaning:

Could is an auxiliary verb that is used to indicate possibility or past ability, to make suggestions, or to show politeness in requests.

Examples:

1. 'I could try to help you with that problem, if you'd like.'

2. 'Could you come over and help me with this project?'

3. 'I didn't think this was possible, but it looks like I could be wrong.'

May

Meaning:

May is a modal verb used to express possibility or permission.

Examples:

1. May I borrow your pen for a moment?

2. We may have a chance of winning if we try our best.

3. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Learn similar and opposite words to spot the difference

Synonyms

Antonyms

Could

1. May

2. Might

3. Would

4. Should

5. Be able to

1. Cannot

2. Must not

3. Should not

4. Will not

5. Refrain

May

1. Could

2. Might

3. Could be

4. Perhaps

5. Probable

1. Deny

2. Refuse

3. Disagree

4. Abstain

5. Withhold

Tricks for mastery

Useful tips to understand the difference between confusing words "Could", "May".

1. Could is used to express past ability and general possibility.

2. May is used to express permission and present possibility.

3. Could is used to make polite requests, while May is used to grant permission.

4. To help remember the difference between the two, remember the phrase 'May I?' which is commonly used to ask for permission.

5. May is used to express present or future possibility, such as 'May the weather be nice tomorrow.'

Check the full list of commonly confused words in English

Learn the difference

Frequently asked questions

In what situations should the first word 'could' be used?

Could is an auxiliary verb that is used to indicate possibility or past ability, to make suggestions, or to show politeness in requests. Examples of situations that could be used are: asking someone if they can do something, expressing a possibility, or making a polite request.

When is the appropriate context for using the second word 'may'?

May is a modal verb used to express possibility or permission. For example, it could be used to give or ask for permission, indicate possibilities, or for making requests in a polite manner.

Do the two words share the same pronunciation?

The pronunciation for both words is also slightly different, with 'could' being pronounced (kʊd) and 'may' being pronounced (meɪ).

What are some common mistakes people make when using these words?

One of the most common mistakes people make when using these words is confusing them with one another. People often forget that 'could' expresses possibility or past ability and that 'may' expresses possibility or permission. Additionally, people often forget to use the appropriate context when using these words, such as using 'may' when asking for permission or using 'could' when making a polite request.

Fill in the gaps to check yourself

1. I ____ go to the park after school today.

2. We ____ have ice cream for dessert tonight.

3. She ____ have been at the store, but Im not sure.

4. Excuse me, ____ I borrow a pen?

5. ____ I help you with that?

6. Im not sure if I ____ make it to the movies tonight.

1. I could go to the park after school today.

Explanation: The word could is used to express possibility. It implies that the speaker is not certain about the outcome, but is asking for permission to do something.

2. We could have ice cream for dessert tonight.

Explanation: The word could is used to express possibility. It is often used to make a suggestion, or ask for permission to do something.

3. She may have been at the store, but Im not sure.

Explanation: The word may is used to express possibility. It implies that the speaker is not certain about the outcome, but is suggesting that something is likely to be true.

4. Excuse me, could I borrow a pen?

Explanation: The word could is used to express possibility. It is often used to make a request or ask for permission to do something.

5. May I help you with that?

Explanation: The word may is used to express possibility. It is often used to ask for permission to do something.

6. Im not sure if I could make it to the movies tonight.

Explanation: The word could is used to express possibility. It implies that the speaker is not certain about the outcome, but is suggesting that something is possible.

Get a gift by subscribing to our newsletter!

Download the PDF with a list of commonly confused words made as flashcards for comfortable learning.

List of Commonly Confused Words

Finding your way around the English language can be hard, especially since there are so many confusing words and rules. So, a list of the most confusing words in English is an extremely useful tool for improving language accuracy and sharing the ideas clearly.