Learn how to use can and may to ask for, give or refuse permission, and do the exercises to practise using them.

Level: beginner

Asking for permission

We use can to ask for permission to do something:

Can I ask a question, please?
Can we go home now?

could is more formal and polite than can:

Could I ask a question, please?
Could we go home now?

may is another more formal and polite way of asking for permission:

May I ask a question, please?
May we go home now?

Asking for permission 1


Asking for permission 2


Giving permission

We use can to give permission:

You can go home now.
You can borrow my pen if you like.

may is a more formal and polite way of giving permission:

You may go home now.

We use can to say that someone has permission to do something:

We can go out whenever we want.
Students can travel for free.

may is a more formal and polite way of saying that someone has permission:

Students may travel for free.

Refusing permission

We use can't and may not to refuse permission or say that someone does not have permission:

You can't go home yet.
Students may not travel for free.

Giving and refusing permission 1


Giving and refusing permission 2



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Submitted by Sajatadib on Thu, 13/10/2022 - 11:30


Hello Sir,
Can we use 'could' in order to give permission?
Could I go out? -Yes,you could.

Hello Sajatadib,

No, 'could' is not used to give permission. As the explanation above indicates, people usually use 'can' or, in more formal situations, 'may'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team