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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 periodicals archive ?
My car is in the Main Street parking lot, but it might not be there.
If P had been the case Q would have been the case, but if P had been the case Q might not have been the case.
Following David Lewis (see Counterfactuals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 2, 21-24), many subscribe to the "duality thesis" of the relation between "might" and "would" counterfactual conditionals, and would therefore hold that instances of 5 are genuinely inconsistent.
"Hopefully things might fall kindly again, because last year's win was brilliant.
Diamond and Myers, Bronte Planning Study, 2; Might's Oakville Directory, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1973; Thacker, "Municipal Pressure Group," 56-60.
Their solicitor implied that Mackenzie had selected the site in the hope "that some of the neighbours might buy his land at profit, as I understand has been the practice in some other localities." (31)
It might have been expected that the restrictions of May 1912 would have limited new apartment houses to the handful of commercial streets, such as Bathurst and Yonge Streets, and the parts of King and Queen Streets closest to the city centre, that had not been specified in the by-laws.