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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 classic literature ?
But the votaries of the Maypole gave one groan for their idol.
I thought not to repent me of cutting down a Maypole," replied Endicott, "yet now I could find in my heart to plant it again, and give each of these bestial pagans one other dance round their idol.
And Endicott, the severest Puritan of all who laid the rock foundation of New England, lifted the wreath of roses from the ruin of the Maypole, and threw it, with his own gauntleted hand, over the heads of the Lord and Lady of the May.
POLICE found a gun and a knife hidden in a car stopped after a chase in Maypole.
If so, you may be in our archive photos of maypole dancing in schools in Birmingham and beyond through the years.
Beamish May Day Celebrations The May Day King and Queen will be crowned as the open air museum celebrate Bank Holiday weekend with parades, music, Maypole dancing and Jack in the Green mask making, starting on Sunday.
In the 16th Century, English villagers would dance around birch maypoles and visitors to Bede's World on Monday will be able to follow in their footsteps with maypole dancing.
CHILDREN at Exhall Cedars helped to keep alive the Great British tradition of maypole dancing.
For when May began, the teachers would haul out the school maypole and the kids would learn to skip around it, winding the colourful ribbons into patterns as they went.
One Cardiffian who has good reason to remember the Maypole which stood on the corner of Bridge Street is Jeff Davies as his father Stan (pictured with assistants) was the manager there for many years.
MAYPOLE and Morris Dancing makes its mark as part of a May Day fun event in south Sefton.
When war veteran Leslie Vines died ten days after being admitted to Maypole Nursing Home, his daughter thought the staff had done all they could to provide her father with the best possible care.