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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 ?
It is a revelation of the Lord of the Worlds, which the true spirit hath brought down upon thy heart, that thou mayest be [one] of the wamers, in plain Arabic speech.
One harried morning he picked up his copy of the Good Book, and his eyes fell on III John I:2: "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
His Angels is informed by Deuteronomy's vision of "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue, that thou mayest live" (16:20), which may depend on the notion that it is a moral imperative not to be too much at home in one's home, that a people's humanity and moral energy is best marshaled in the face of uncertainty rather than belonging and satiation.
For instance, in the passage from Tom Jones that probably inspired Sterne's blank page, Fielding invokes famous statues and paintings of great beauties, only to disclaim all these sights as representative of his beautiful Sophia: "Yet is it possible, my Friend, that thou mayest have seen all these without being able to form an exact Idea of SOPHIA: For she did not exactly resemble any of them .
Oh, mayest Thou cast all the sins of Thy people, the house of
The covenant operates in plain sight by reliable rule: "thou mayest believe because he bids, .
Rutherford based his argument on Deuteronomy 17: 15, "Thou shalt in any wise set him King over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set King over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
We have given to thee, Adam, no fixed seat, no form of thy own, no gift peculiarly thine, that thou mayest feel as thine own, have as thine own, possess as thine own the seat, the form, the gifts which thou thyself shall desire.
Whatever thou mayest think of me and my thousand faults, both as an author and a man, believe me it is with a sincere and affectionate wish for the accomplishment of my parting words, that I bid thee--farewell.
Thus will a double work of charity be done therein, and thus mayest thou look for better service for commonly such are most industrious and most obedient to their masters" (649).
But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
Comport thyself so thou mayest feel great pride in thy studies and thy parents great pride in thee.