Help settle this argument - may vs may not

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  • “John may go to the park” – this sentence expresses that it is possible for John to go to the park. The key word here is may. Another way to phrase it is then would be “It’s possible for John to go to the park”.

    However, if somebody says “John may not go to the park”, we tend to translate that as “John cannot go to the park.” – but when we use inductive reasoning by applying the same principals in the first example, we find out that this is not the case. Since the word may is simply expressing possibility, we can say “It’s possible for John to not go to the park”, this means that it’s possible for John to not go the park…but if it’s possible that he will not go to the park, it must also be possible that he could. If not, then the statement is false and should read “It is impossible for John to go to the park”.



    So, with that said...may and may not mean the exact same thing. Right? Another example...

    "This may be the case"

    "This may not be the case"

    What's the difference? The two mean the exact same things from a mathematical and grammatical point of view. Right? If I'm wrong, then English is confusing to me because it doesn't follow consistent logic :(

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    fenderbender123
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  • May has several definitions. It can be used in the sense of 'possibility' or it can be used in terms of permission (similar to can).

    English is a difficult language because so many words have several meanings yet are phrased the same way. To use 'may' in the permissive function would be someone who has authority over John, while using may in the possibility sense would be someone who is an equal or of undetermined relationship.
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    SonicHawk
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  • Technically, it can mean the same thing. I guess it's an odds thing. If the probability is positive, use may, if negative, may not.
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  • The reasoning here is incorrect (as is the connotation of possibility here which is wrongly defined here as well). If you are using may in the sense of the possibility of outcomes, then the "May go" points to the 'positive' outcome, i.e it's more likely he will go, and the "May not go" points the negative outcome i.e it's more likely he will not go. The not is not a negation of the word may itself because the action does not go to the not-possible as your character may well change his mind. Or he may not. ;)
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  • You have to read for context.

    IMO, if little Johnny asks if he may go to the park and mom responds with "You may not.", then that is the "impossible" version. If you just make a random statement that you may not go to the park, then it's subjective and can go either way.
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  • What Sar & Ro said. Sometimes may = might, sometimes may = can.
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  • I think the OP understands that part (about context), I believe his point was about:

    "This may be the case"

    "This may not be the case"

    Even switch "may" with "might" (and "This" with "That"), both sentences basically mean the same thing. As I said above, I use/don't use "not" to express probability.
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  • Random thought: I love people that care about their grammar. That is all; carry on.
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  • RolandDeschain wrote:Random thought: I love people that care about their grammar. That is all; carry on.


    And spelling, yet alone sits my Hommy/suppa thread in the Shack. And here I thought it could be a lot of fun.
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  • Yeah, spelling definitely included/matters, too. Did you really have to start two sentences in a row with the word "and", Zeb?
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  • RolandDeschain wrote:Yeah, spelling definitely included/matters, too. Did you really have to start two sentences in a row with the word "and", Zeb?


    Yes, this time I did. And I may or may not do it again too.
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  • LMAO.
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  • Context. The statement "John may/may not go to the park" implies permission, not necessarily possiblity. Now if someone asks, "Will John go to the park?" a sensible answer would still be "Yes, he may go to the park" but that does not indicate he will, or the probability of whether or not he goes. In that scenario, the probablitity for/against his going is implied but not defined.
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  • Zebulon Dak wrote:What Sar & Ro said. Sometimes may = might, sometimes may = can.


    This is what I hate about English. Why is it okay for sentences to have multiple meanings? That shouldn't happen.
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  • fenderbender123 wrote:
    Zebulon Dak wrote:What Sar & Ro said. Sometimes may = might, sometimes may = can.


    This is what I hate about English. Why is it okay for sentences to have multiple meanings? That shouldn't happen.


    We got all sorts of those. Better get used to it. All the Latin based languages have them, as far as I've been able to tell. If you want a more specific language I recommend Japanese.
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  • This is just a guess on my part, but I'd be willing to bet that no language in the world doesn't have at least some different meanings for some of the same words or phrases based on differing contexts. I think it's impossible to have a fully fleshed-out language without them. Seriously, can you imagine any culture in the world that doesn't have a phrase similar to "go to hell" where if you say it to a friend and you're smiling, it's a friendly greeting, but if you're shouting it and angry, it's a threat/admonishment/etc.?

    Anybody around here speak and write a dozen or more languages that would have an idea? Fender, what language are you apparently a native speaker of that doesn't have instances of multiple meanings from the same word?
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  • RolandDeschain wrote:This is just a guess on my part, but I'd be willing to bet that no language in the world doesn't have at least some different meanings for some of the same words or phrases based on differing contexts. I think it's impossible to have a fully fleshed-out language without them. Seriously, can you imagine any culture in the world that doesn't have a phrase similar to "go to hell" where if you say it to a friend and you're smiling, it's a friendly greeting, but if you're shouting it and angry, it's a threat/admonishment/etc.?

    Anybody around here speak and write a dozen or more languages that would have an idea? Fender, what language are you apparently a native speaker of that doesn't have instances of multiple meanings from the same word?


    Absolutely, I know in french you have words like 'bureau' which mean office or desk, 'Mars' meaning Mars the planet or March the month... Laisse aller à Mars en Mars.
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