Grammar Please! Why ‘please may you’ is wrong.

As of 2013-08-29, you can now watch this post as a YouTube video!

It annoys me when people say “please may you”. Surely anyone who can communicate in English (as their first language) should know that “please may you” doesn’t make sense.
Allow me to explain:
“Please may I” is fine – it’s just a more polite way of saying “please can I”
There are two ways we use the word “can”
The first one questions whether you are able to do it and whether it is possible
The second one asks whether you are permitted to do it
Say I had a rocket launcher and I asked my teacher “can I rob the bank please?”
They would probably reply “No. Of course you can’t!” and quite rightly because robbing the bank is against the law.
That was the first meaning of “can”
My rocket launcher, however, is capable of blowing the wall of the bank clean apart, to if I wanted to I could easily rob the bank.
I might ask my friend “do you think I can rob the bank?”
And they would probably reply “D’uh! You can do anything with that rocket launcher!”
There’s the second meaning
The word “May”, apart from being a month, also means “can” – the first meaning
I might ask “May I sit here?”
Which means “Am I allowed to sit here?”
And hopefully I will get the reply “You may”
Meaning: “You are allowed to sit here”
The person in charge decides if the person who isn’t in charge ‘may’ or if they ‘may not’
You can’t decide for yourself whether you may or may not unless you ask the person in charge or read the rules
If you say “Please may I go to the toilet” (which is where many people first hear the phrase in Primary school) – you are asking the person in charge if you are permitted to go to the toilet
That is fine
However: If you say “Please may you help me” – you are actually asking:
“Please are you allowed to help me”
This is not how you’re meant to use the word “may” because you know the person in charge may because they’re in charge and can do anything they want
As well as this, may also means “might”
This is because if you may do something you have the decision of whether you do it or not. You might do it. Or you might not
You may do it, so you may choose to do it, or you may choose not to

It’s perfectly fine to say “Please will you”
“Please can you” is OK too, when you think about it, maybe it’s not, but more people say that than people who say “may”

Maybe I’m just fussy

PS. I hope that made sense


About Matt

I like writing, filmmaking, programming and gaming, and prefer creating media to consuming it. On the topic of consumption, I'm also a big fan of eating.
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