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v. a choice to act or not, or a promise of a possibility, as distinguished from "shall" which makes it imperative. 2) in statutes, and sometimes in contracts, the word "may" must be read in context to determine if it means an act is optional or mandatory, for it may be an imperative. The same careful analysis must be made of the word "shall." Non-lawyers tend to see the word "may" and think they have a choice or are excused from complying with some statutory provision or regulation. (See: shall)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

MAY. To be permitted; to be at liberty; to have the power.
     2. Whenever a statute directs the doing of a thing for the sake of justice or the public good, the word may is the same as shall. For example, the 23 H. VI. says, the sheriff may take bail, that is construed he shall, for he is compellable to do so. Carth. 293 Salk. 609; Skin. 370.
     3. The words shall and may in general acts of the legislature or in private constitutions, are to be construed imperatively; 3. Atk. 166; but the construction of those words in a deed depends on circumstances. 3 Atk. 282. See 1 Vern. 152, case. 142 9 Porter, R. 390.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in classic literature ?
There were few buildings then, north of the Oxford-road, and forest-trees flourished, and wild flowers grew, and the hawthorn blossomed, in the now vanished fields.
Bounderby's retreat, there mellowed into a rustic landscape, golden with heath, and snowy with hawthorn in the spring of the year, and tremulous with leaves and their shadows all the summer time.
Gordon Hawthorn at Bristol Crown Court yesterday; inset below, BBC presenter Alex Lovell BEN BIRCHALL/PA WIRE; BBC/PA WIRE
In January, 2016, Hawthorn wrote that his New Year's resolution was to have sex with the presenter - with or without her consent.
She asked her lover Mary Hawthorn if she wanted to join in the attack, which she did by kicking and punching her.
If approved, the plans would involve the closure of Pontypridd High School, Cilfynydd Primary School, Hawthorn Primary and High schools, Heol-y-Celyn Primary School and Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton as they are now, and the closure of sixth forms at Hawthorn High, Pontypridd High and Cardinal Newman RC Comprehensive.
Opened as Hawthorn Suites in June 2016, the two-story, 104-room hotel features a number of notable upgrades, including: redesigned bedrooms and baths, and redesigned lobby and public areas Additional highlights include new outdoor pool, business center, fitness center, and guest laundry.
Despite the title, this engaging mystery from debut author Chelsea Sedoti isn't about the popular, enviable Lizzie, but about 17-year-old Hawthorn Creely, the lonely outcast who becomes obsessed with Lizzie's disappearance.
CREW: R Hawthorn (2)--Skipper, H Hawthorn (2)--Skipper, G Cooper (9), C Hawthorn (2), M Short (8), E Markey, J Broom, J Penney, J Craddock, I Short, A Guy, M Barber
When popular, happy Lizzie Lovett goes missing, seventeen-year-old Hawthorn imagines that Lizzie is transitioning into a werewolf.
Hawthorn's Luke Hodge will captain the side, with just four of the squad - Andrew Gaff, Dyson Heppell, Jarryd Roughead and Jake Stringer - new to the hybrid code.