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Your Assistance is Kindly Requested

Not sure if I've mentioned this before but, in case I haven't, I am in the midst of an introductory linguistics class. I have to conduct a bit of research for my course project and need YOUR help. I want to measure the prevalence of usage between  Can I...? and May I...? and am curious to know any reasoning you might have behind why you say what you do.

Instructions for being a very helpful and lovely sort of person:
  1. Go to the top right-hand column to find the poll. (The poll will run through June 8, 2012 at 7 p.m. PDT) 
  2. Take the poll and please be sure to put *YOUR* answer and not one you think might be more correct. I am not looking for grammar correctness. I want to know common usage statistics. For example-- if you were taught one way but do it differently, put what you actually say most of the time. (It is one question so it should take approximately 10-15 seconds.)
  3. If you want to help make my research project really awesome and multifaceted: Please share your answer and any thoughts you have about why in the comments section of this post. (Anonymous comments are enabled on my blog. Therefore, if you do not want your identity known but want to share some insights with everyone, be sure to access this page prior to signing in on anything that would catch you on the radar.)
  4. If you want to help make my research project really fabulous and the opposite of lame-due-to-lack-of-enough-participants: PLEASE SHARE THIS LINK WITH OTHERS. (There is no such thing as too many people taking the poll or leaving comments. I am an over-achiever, hence my expectations are probably too high, and my dream number for how many people will participate is astronomical.)
I have share buttons at the end of the post for direct emailing, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. So take the poll, comment and/or SHARE.

I thank you in advance for supporting my effort to do something interesting and worthwhile. I appreciate it very much.

Please Note: The poll ends June 8th!!!


  1. My grandpa was an english major and between him and my dad, I've always been taught that it is more proper to say "May I'.
    Once in a while growing up, I'd say, "Dad, can I....(insert whatever question you'd like here)?" and he'd say, "I don't know. Can you?" So I'd have to switch to "May I" before he'd answer my question. :)
    Not sure if that helped answer your question but it is just what I was always taught.

  2. I actually never really put much thought into this before now! I use "can I" when addressing my students; I think I use "may I" when talking with my family/friends. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe I'm not asking permission from my students ("Can we start now, please?")...

  3. @Suzanne M: Exactly how I learned it. Became very tired of hearing "I don't know. Can you?" lol

    Bottom line? That's how I learned usage. I may not always get it right, but I'd like to think that I get close.

  4. I think 'May I' is more of a statement and 'Can I' is more of a question..make sense? lol

  5. I voted for using either or, depending on situation. I also use 'could I possibly' quite often as well! I think 'Can I' is slightly less forceful... I'm more likely to use when speaking to strangers or people I'm being delicate around. It's far less definite.

  6. I picked "either one" depending on the nature of the request. Like everyone else here, it seems, I learned from a very young age the, "I don't know, can you?" rule. Way I see it, "May I" is for permission requests, "Can I" is an "am I able to" question. Like the "Can we start now please?" example up above, that strikes me as more a, "Are you able to stop talking so we can get started" question. Ah, the joy of linguistics. Been there, done that - quite enjoyed it!

  7. It would be interesting to see how generations differ, because I'm sure I as a younger person say, "Can I" more often whereas my grandparents probably would've said it depends on the situation.


Your comments are appreciated!