Modals for Asking Permissions
Can and May
- We use CAN to ask for permission from someone we know well.
Can I speak to John Wilson, please?
Can I borrow your pen for a minute?
- We use May as a slightly more formal way to ask for permission.
May I ask a question please?
May we go home now?
Could and May
- Could is used as a more polite way of asking for permission.
Could I please have a glass of beer?
(Could is the past tense of can. However, when asking for permission, could does not have a past tense meaning.)
- Could has the same meaning as may when making requests. It is equally polite to say, “Could I open the window?” or “May I open the window?”
- Could is used with any subject to ask for permission.
Could you open the window?