Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Joys of "May"

"May" is one of my favorite words. It is a modal verb, from German, that adds "texture" to sentences in artful ways. Short and sweet, "may" speaks to volition, permission, discretion, possibility, or necessity. It quantifies and qualifies statements, expresses intent, and indicates obligations and possible actions. It is a joy to find so much meaning in one little word. (Other modal verbs include: can, could, might, must, will, would, shall, should, ought to, dare, and need.)
Drafting Tip: Use "shall" to create a duty. Use "must" where appropriate to assert the existence of a duty. But, remember that "must" sounds bossy and may not maintain the proper tone in a statute or administrative rule. Use "may" to state permission,  but be careful that the use is not ambiguous or subject to interpretation as a statement of possibility.

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