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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)

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.

References in periodicals archive ?
Jeanne Brown warned: "I am 57 and remember snow on my birthday twice after May and May blossoms so one never knows.
Next time you look at a hedgerow, remember the rhyme "not to cast a clout until May is out" - which possibly refers not to the month of May but to may blossom.
Now with spring starting earlier, the May blossom is often in bloom by early April.
My grandmother, May Blossom Cooke (nee D'Cruz) was born in India in 1921.
A front page advert claimed that Welch's quality sweets were as attractive as May blossom.
Colwyn Bay beach was a study in sepia with a solitary figure walking a dog and all along the journey the hedgerows,dripping with moisture, were covered in May blossom.
She was crowned by Lynne Taylor, five, of Hawthorne Terrace, with a coronet of May blossom.
He has taken his fair share of stick, now he may blossom with more consistency.
Trouble - Boucheron: Fresh and oriental, with citron and foxglove teamed with jasmine, may blossom and amber.
By the end of the service, Marija shows, with a passionate kiss, that their counterfeit marriage may blossom.
It's always "Try to keep your life at a slow pace so that opportunities for romance may blossom and grow" or "Travel seems to be uppermost in the changes you want from your life at this time".