1 [mey]
auxiliary verb, present singular 1st person may, 2nd may or (Archaic) mayest or mayst, 3rd may; present plural may; past might.
(used to express possibility): It may rain.
(used to express opportunity or permission): You may enter.
(used to express contingency, especially in clauses indicating condition, concession, purpose, result, etc.): I may be wrong but I think you would be wise to go. Times may change but human nature stays the same.
(used to express wish or prayer): May you live to an old age.
Archaic. (used to express ability or power.)
Compare might1.

before 900; Middle English mai 1st and 3rd person singular present indicative of mouen, Old English mæg (infinitive magan); cognate with German mögen

may, might, must (see synonym study at must).

See can1. Unabridged


2 [mey]
noun Archaic.
a maiden.

before 900; Middle English mai; Old English mæg


the fifth month of the year, containing 31 days.
the early part of one's life, especially the prime: a young woman in her May.
the festivities of May Day.
(lowercase) British. the hawthorn.
a female given name.
a cape at the SE tip of New Jersey, on Delaware Bay.
verb (used without object)
(lowercase) to gather flowers in the spring: when we were maying.

before 1050; Middle English, Old English Maius < Latin, short for Maius mēnsis Maia's month Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
may1 (meɪ)
vb (takes an infinitive without to or an implied infinitive used as an auxiliary) , past might
1.  to indicate that permission is requested by or granted to someone: he may go to the park tomorrow if he behaves himself
2.  (often foll by well) to indicate possibility: the rope may break; he may well be a spy
3.  to indicate ability or capacity, esp in questions: may I help you?
4.  to express a strong wish: long may she reign
5.  to indicate result or purpose: used only in clauses introduced by that or so that: he writes so that the average reader may understand
6.  another word for might
7.  to express courtesy in a question: whose child may this little girl be?
8.  be that as it may in spite of that: a sentence connector conceding the possible truth of a previous statement and introducing an adversative clause: be that as it may, I still think he should come
9.  come what may whatever happens
10.  (foll by a clause introduced by but) that's as may be that may be so
usage  It was formerly considered correct to use may rather than can when referring to permission as in: you may use the laboratory for your experiments, but this use of may is now almost entirely restricted to polite questions such as: may I open the window? The use of may with if in constructions such as: your analysis may have been more more credible if … is generally regarded as incorrect, might being preferred: your analysis might have been more credible if

may2 (meɪ)
an archaic word for maiden
[Old English mæg; related to Old High German māg kinsman, Old Norse māgr a relative by marriage]

may3 (meɪ)
1.  a Brit name for hawthorn Also: may tree
2.  short for may blossom
[C16: from the month of May, when it flowers]

May1 (meɪ)
the fifth month of the year, consisting of 31 days
[from Old French, from Latin Maius, probably from Maia, Roman goddess, identified with the Greek goddess Maia]

May2 (meɪ)
Robert McCredie. Baron. born 1936, Australian biologist and ecologist

may blossom or may
the blossom of the may tree or hawthorn
may or may

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. mæg "I am able" (inf. magan, p.t. meahte, mihte), from P.Gmc. root *mag-, inf. *maganan (cf. O.Fris. muga, O.N. mega, Du. mogen, Ger. mögen, Goth. magan "to be able"), from PIE *mogh-/*megh- "power" (cf. Gk. mekhos, makhos "means, instrument," O.C.S. mogo "to be able," mosti "power,
force," Skt. mahan "great"). Also related to might (q.v.).

1110, from O.Fr. mai, from L. Majus, Maius mensis "month of May," possibly from Maja, Maia a Roman earth goddess (wife of Vulcan) whose name is possibly from PIE *mag-ya "she who is great," fem. suffixed form of base *meg- "great" (cognate with L. magnus). Replaced O.E. þrimilce, month in which
cows can be milked three times a day. May marriage have been considered unlucky at least since Ovid's day. Mayflower (1626) was used locally for the cowslip, the lady's smock, and other plants that bloom in May. May apple attested from 1733.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Encyclopedia Britannica


fifth month of the Gregorian calendar. It was named after Maia, a Roman fertility goddess.

Learn more about May with a free trial on

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
They may yet come back into the national spotlight if they maintain momentum.
Watermelon, the quintessential summer fruit, may soon be helping to fuel your
  car as well as your picnic guests.
City dwellers may handle pressure differently from those who live in less
  populated areas.
Observatories or individual sky watchers may be asked to take a look.
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