from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A hawthorn or its blossoms.
  • auxiliary verb To be allowed or permitted to.
  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate a certain measure of likelihood or possibility.
  • auxiliary verb Used to express a desire or fervent wish.
  • auxiliary verb Used to express contingency, purpose, or result in clauses introduced by that or so that.
  • auxiliary verb To be obliged, as where rules of construction or legal doctrine call for a specified interpretation of a word used in a law or legal document.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A maiden; a virgin.
  • noun A kinsman.
  • noun A person.
  • To celebrate May-day; take part in the festivities of Mayday: chiefly or only in the verbal noun maying and the derivative mayer: as, to go a maying.
  • noun The fifth month of the year, consisting of thirty-one days, reckoned on the continent of Europe and in America as the last month of spring, but in Great Britain commonly as the first of summer.
  • noun Figuratively, the early part or springtime of life.
  • noun [lowercase] The hawthorn: so called because it blooms in May. Also May-bush.
  • noun Some other plant, especially species of Spiræa: as, Italian may.
  • noun The festivities or games of May-day.
  • noun In Cambridge University, England, the Easter-term examination.
  • A. As an independent verb, or as a quasi-auxiliary: To have power; have ability; be able; can.
  • To indicate possibility with contingency.
  • In this sense, when a negative clause was followed by a contingent clause with if, may in the latter clause was formerly used elliptically, if I may meaning ‘if I can control it’ or ‘prevent it.’
  • Sometimes may is used merely to avoid a certain bluntness in putting a question, or to suggest doubt as to whether the person to whom the question is addressed will be able to answer it definitely.
  • The preterit might is similarly used, with some slight addition of contempt.
  • To indicate opportunity, moral power, or the absolute power residing in another agent.
  • In this sense may is scarcely used now in negative clauses, as permission refused amounts to an absolute prohibition, and accordingly removes all doubt or contingency.
  • To indicate desire, as in prayer, aspiration, imprecation, benediction, and the like. In this sense might is often used for a wish contrary to what can or must be: as, O that I might recall him from the grave !
  • In law, may in a statute is usually interpreted to mean must, when used not to confer a favor, but to impose a duty in the exercise of which the statute shows that the public or private persons are to be regarded as having an interest.
  • In conditional clauses. [Rare, except in clauses where permission is distinctly expressed.]
  • In concessive clauses.
  • In clauses expressing a purpose.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun obsolete A maiden.
  • verb Ability, competency, or possibility; -- now oftener expressed by can.
  • verb Liberty; permission; allowance.
  • verb Contingency or liability; possibility or probability.
  • verb Modesty, courtesy, or concession, or a desire to soften a question or remark.
  • verb Desire or wish, as in prayer, imprecation, benediction, and the like.
  • verb are used as equivalent to possibly, perhaps, maybe, by chance, peradventure. See 1st Maybe.
  • noun The fifth month of the year, containing thirty-one days.
  • noun The early part or springtime of life.
  • noun (Bot.) The flowers of the hawthorn; -- so called from their time of blossoming; also, the hawthorn.
  • noun The merrymaking of May Day.
  • noun (Bot.) a shrubby species of Spiræa (Spiræa hypericifolia) with many clusters of small white flowers along the slender branches.
  • noun (Bot.) the fruit of an American plant (Podophyllum peltatum). Also, the plant itself (popularly called mandrake), which has two lobed leaves, and bears a single egg-shaped fruit at the forking. The root and leaves, used in medicine, are powerfully drastic.
  • noun (Zoöl.) any one of numerous species of large lamellicorn beetles that appear in the winged state in May. They belong to Melolontha, and allied genera. Called also June beetle.
  • noun the first day of May; -- celebrated in the rustic parts of England by the crowning of a May queen with a garland, and by dancing about a May pole.
  • noun the morning dew of the first day of May, to which magical properties were attributed.
  • noun (Bot.) a plant that flowers in May; also, its blossom. See Mayflower, in the vocabulary.
  • noun (Zoöl.) any species of Ephemera, and allied genera; -- so called because the mature flies of many species appear in May. See Ephemeral fly, under Ephemeral.
  • noun any May-day sport.
  • noun the queen or lady of May, in old May games.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[French mai, hawthorn, from Mai, May (so called because it blooms in May); see May.]

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, to be able, from Old English mæg, first and third person sing. of magan, to be strong, be able; see magh- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old English magan, from Proto-Germanic *maganan, from Proto-Indo-European *magʰ, *megʰ. Cognate with Dutch mogen, Low German mægen, German mögen, Swedish , Icelandic mega, megum. See also might.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

French mai, so called because it blossoms in May.


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